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Abrasion: Frictional EROSION by material transported by wind and waves.
Accelerometer: A device used in wave buoys for measuring acceleration.
Accretion: The accumulation of (beach) sediment, deposited by natural fluid flow processes.
Active margin: A margin consisting of a CONTINENTAL SHELF, a CONTINENTAL SLOPE,
and an oceanic trench.
Aeolian deposits: Wind-deposited sediments, such as sand DUNES. See Figure 8.
Aggradation: The geologic process by which various parts of the surface of the earth are raised
in ELEVATION or built up by the deposition of material transported by water or wind.
Allochtonous: A term applied shelves that presently experience deposition of river-derived
sediments. See also DETRITUS.
Alongshore: Parallel to and near the shoreline; same as LONGSHORE.
Alluvial deposits: Detrital material which is transported by a river and deposited usually
temporarily at points along the FLOODPLAIN of a river. Commonly composed of sands and
Altimeter: An instrument that determines its distance above a particular surface.
altimeter, laser: An instrument that determines altitude by measuring the length of time needed
for a pulse of coherent light to travel from the instrument to the surface and back, and multiplies
half this time by the speed of light to get the straight-line distance to the surface.
altimeter, lidar: See ALTIMETER, LASER, and lidar.
Amplitude: Half of the peak-to-trough range (or height) of a wave. See Figure13.
Angle of repose: The maximum slope (measured from the HORIZON) at which soils and loose
materials on the banks of CANALS, rivers or embankments stay stable.
Aquifer: A geologic formation that is water-bearing, and which transmits water from one point
to another.
aseismic ridge: A submarine ridge with which no earthquakes are associated.
Astronomical tide: The tidal levels and character which would result from gravitational effects,
e.g. of the Earth, Sun and Moon, without any atmospheric influences.
Attenuation: The loss or dissipation of wave energy, resulting in a reduction of wave height
Autochthonous: A term applied to shelves on which older shelf sediments are primarily being
reworked by modern shelf processes.
Automatic tide gage: An instrument that automatically registers the rise and fall of the tide. In
some instruments, the registration is accomplished by printing the heights at regular intervals, in
others by a continuous graph in which the height of the tide is represented by the ordinates of the
curve and the corresponding time by the abscissae.
Avulsion: (1) Rapid EROSION of the shoreland by waves during a storm. (2) A sudden cutting
off of land by flood, currents or change in course of a body of water.
Backshore: (1) The upper part of the active BEACH above the normal reach of the tides (high
water), but affected by large waves occurring during a high. (2) (SMP) The accretion or erosion
zone, located landward of ordinary high tide, which is normally wetted only by storm tides.
Backwash: (1) The seaward return of the water following the uprush of the waves. Also called
backrush or run down. (2) Water of waves thrown back by an obstruction such as a ship,
Backwash ripples: Low amplitude ripple marks formed on fine sand beaches by the
BACKWASH of the waves.
Bank: The rising ground bordering a lake, river or sea.
Bar: An offshore ridge or mound of sand, GRAVEL, or other unconsolidated material which is
submerged (at least at high tide), especially at the mouth of a river or ESTUARY, or lying
parallel to, and a short distance from, the BEACH. See Figure 2.
Barrier beach: A BAR essentially parallel to the shore, which has been built up so that its crest
rises above the normal high water level. Also called BARRIER ISLAND and OFFSHORE
Barrier island: A detached portion of a BARRIER BEACH between two inlets. See Figure6.
Barrier spit: Similar to a BARRIER ISLAND, only connected to the mainland.
Basin: A large submarine DEPRESSION of a generally circular, elliptical or oval shape.
Bathymetry: The measurement of DEPTHS of water in oceans, seas and lakes; also the
information derived from such measurements.
Bay: A recess or INLET in the shore of a sea or lake between two capes or headlands, not as
large as a GULF but larger than a COVE. See also BIGHT, EMBAYMENT. See Figure 5.
Baymouth bar: A BAR extending partly or entirely across the mouth of a bay.
Beach: (1) A deposit of non-cohesive material (e.g. sand, GRAVEL) situated on the interface
between dry land and the sea (or other large expanse of water) and actively "worked" by present-
day hydrodynamics processes (i.e. waves, tides and CURRENTS) and sometimes by winds. (2)
The zone of unconsolidated material that extends landward from the LOW WATER LINE to the
place where there is marked change in material or physiographic form, or to the line of
permanent vegetation. The seaward limit of a BEACH unless otherwise specified is the
The zone of unconsolidated material that is moved by WAVES, wind and TIDAL CURRENTS,
extending landward to the COASTLINE.
Beach crest: The point representing the limit of high tide storm wave run-up.
Beach erosion: The carrying away of beach materials by wave action, tidal CURRENTS,
Beach face: The section of the BEACH normally exposed to the action of wave UPRUSH. The
Beach head: The CLIFF, dune or sea wall looming the landward limit of the active BEACH.
Beach nourishment: The process of replenishing a BEACH by artificial means; e.g., by the
deposition of dredged materials, also called beach replenishment or beach feeding.
Beach profile: A cross-section taken perpendicular to a given beach contour; the profile may
include the face of a dune or sea wall, extend over the BACKSHORE, across the foreshore, and
seaward underwater into the nearshore zone.
Beach Ridge: A low extensive ridge of beach material piled up by storm waves landward of the
BERM. Usually consists of very coarse sand, GRAVEL or shells. Occurs singly or as a series of
more or less parallel ridges.
Beach scarp: (1) An almost perpendicular slope along the beach FORESHORE; an erosional
feature due to wave action, it may vary in height from a few centimeters to several meters,
depending on wave action and the nature and composition of the BEACH. See ESCARPMENT.
See ESCARPMENT. (2) (SMP) A steep slope produced by wave erosion.
Beach width: The horizontal dimension of the BEACH measured normal to the shoreline.
Beaufort Scale: The relationship between sea state and wind speed. The Beaufort Scale can be
used to estimate wind speed at sea, but is valid only for waves generated within the local weather
system, and assumes that there has been sufficient time for a fully developed sea to have become
Bed: The bottom of a watercourse, or any body of water.
Bedding plane: A surface parallel to the surface of deposition, which may or may not have a
physical expression. The original attitude of a bedding plane should not be assumed to have been
Bed load: Heavy or large sediment particles that travel near or on the BED.
Bench: (1) A level or gently sloping erosion plane inclined seaward. (2) A nearly horizontal area
at about the level of maximum HIGH WATER on the sea side of a DIKE.
Bench mark: A mark affixed to a permanent object in tidal observations, or in a survey, to
furnish a DATUM level.
Bench mark, tidal: A BENCH MARK whose ELEVATION has been determined with respect
to MEAN SEA LEVEL at a nearby tide gauge; the tidal bench mark is used as reference for that
tide gauge.
Benefits: The economic value of a scheme, usually measured in terms of the cost of damages
avoided by the scheme, or the valuation of perceived amenity or environmental improvements.
Benthos: Those animals who live on the sediments of the sea floor, including both mobile and
non-mobile forms.
Benthic: Pertaining to the sub-aquatic bottom.
Berm: (1) On a BEACH: a nearly horizontal plateau on the BEACH FACE or BACKSHORE,
formed by the deposition of beach material by wave action or by means of a mechanical plant as
part of a beach recharge scheme. (2) On a structure: a nearly horizontal area, often built to
support or key-in an armour layer. (3) (SMP) A linear mound or series of mounds of SAND
and/or GRAVEL generally paralleling the water at or landward of the line of ordinary high tide.
See Figure 2.
Berm breakwater: Rubble mound with horizontal BERM of armour stones at about sea-side
water level, which is allowed to be (re)shaped by the waves.
Berm crest: The seaward limit of the BERM, or the minimum DEPTH of a submerged BERM;
also called berm edge.
Bifurcation: Location where a river separates in two or more reaches or branches (the opposite
Bight: A slight indentation in a COAST forming an open BAY, usually crescent shaped.
Blowout: A DEPRESSION on the land surface caused by wind EROSION.
Bluff: A high, steep BANK or CLIFF.
Bog: (SMP) A wet, spongy, poorly drained area which is usually rich in very specialized plants,
contains a high percentage of organic remnants and residues and frequently is associated with a
spring, seepage area, or other subsurface water source. A bog sometimes represents the final
stage of the natural processes of eutrophication by which lakes and other bodies of water are very
slowly transformed into land areas.
Boil: An upward flow of water in a sandy formation due to an unbalanced hydrostatic pressure
resulting from a rise in a nearby stream, or from removing the overburden in making
Bottom boundary layer: The lower portion of the water flow that experiences frictional
retardation based on its proximity to the BED. See also VELOCITY PROFILE.
Boulder: A rounded rock on a BEACH, greater than 256 mm in diameter, larger than a cobble.
See also GRAVEL, shingle.
Box gage: A tide gage that is operated by a float in a long vertical box to which the tide is
admitted through an opening in the bottom. In the original type of box gage the float supported a
graduated rod which rose and fell with the tide.
Breaching: Failure of the BEACH HEAD or a DIKE allowing flooding by tidal action.
Breaker: A wave that has become so steep that the crest of the wave topples forward, moving
faster than the main body of the wave. Breakers may be roughly classified into four kinds,
although there is much overlap (see Figure 2):
Spilling bubbles and turbulent water spill down the front face of wave. The upper 25 percent of
the front face may become vertical before breaking. Breaking generally across over quite a
Plunging a crest curls over air pocket; breaking is usually with a crash. Smooth splash-up
usually follows.
Collapsing breaking occurs over lower half of wave. Minimal air pocket and usually no splash-
up. Bubbles and foam present.
Surging wave peaks up, but bottom rushes forward from under wave, and wave slides up
BEACH FACE with little or no bubble production. Water surface remains almost plane except
where ripples may be produced on the BEACHFACE during BACKWASH.
Breaker index: Maximum ratio of wave height to water DEPTH in the surf zone, typically 0.78
for SPILLING WAVES, ranging from about 0.6 to 1.5.
Breaker zone: The zone within which waves approaching the COASTLINE commence
breaking, typically in water DEPTHS of between 5 m and 10 m.
Breaking depth: The still-water DEPTH at the point where the wave breaks.
Breakwater: (1) A structure protecting a HARBOR, anchorage, or BASIN from waves. (2)
(SMP) Offshore structure aligned parallel to the SHORE, sometimes shore-connected, that
provides protection from waves.
Buffer area: A parcel or strip of land that is designed and designated to permanently remain
vegetated in an undisturbed and natural condition to protect an adjacent aquatic or wetland site
from upland impacts, to provide habitat for wildlife and to afford limited public access.
Bulkhead: (1) A structure separating land and water areas, primarily designed to resist earth
pressures. (2) A structure or partition to retain or prevent sliding of the land. A secondary
purpose is to protect the upland against damage from wave action.
Buoyancy: The resultant upward forces, exerted by the water on a submerged or floating body,
equal to the weight of the water displaced by this body.
Bypassing, sand: Hydraulic or mechanical movement of sand from the accreting updrift side to
the eroding DOWNDRIFT side of an INLET or HARBOR ENTRANCE. The hydraulic
movement may include natural as well as movement caused by man.
Buoy: A float; especially a floating object moored to the bottom, to mark a CHANNEL, anchor,
shoal rock, etc. Some common types include: a nun or nut buoy is conical in shape; a can buoy is
squat and cylindrical above water and conical below water; a spar buoy is a vertical, slender spar
anchored at one end; a bell buoy, bearing a bell, runs mechanically or by the action of waves,
usually marks shoals or rocks; a whistling buoy, similarly operated, marks shoals or channel
entrances; a dan buoy carries a pole with a flag or light on it.
California current: A deep-ocean boundary current that flows south-southeasterly along the U.S.
west coast. The current is shallow, broad and slow moving carrying cold, nutrient poor waters
toward the equator.
Calm: The condition of the water surface when there is no WIND WAVES or SWELL.
Camera, aerial: A camera especially designed for photographing the Earths surface from above
the ground; usually carried in aircraft and Earth-orbiting satellites.
Camera, metric: A camera designed particularly for photogrammetry, constructed so that the
image is distorted geometrically as little as possible and the camera characteristics do not change
from photograph to photograph.
Canal: An artificial watercourse cut through a land area for such uses as navigation and
Cape: A relatively extensive land area jutting seaward from a continent or large island which
prominently marks a change in, or interrupts notably, the coastal trend; a prominent feature.
Capillary wave: A wave whose velocity or propagation is controlled primarily by the surface
tension of the liquid in which the wave is travelling. A water wave in which the wave length is
less than 2.5 cm is considered to be a capillary wave, while waves longer than 2.5 cm and shorter
than 5cm are in an indeterminate zone between CAPILLARY and GRAVITY WAVES. See also
RIPPLE. See Figure 10.
Carrying capacity: The maximum number of species that any particular area can support over
an extended period of time.
Cartography: The science and art of making maps.
Celerity: The magnitude of WAVE VELOCITY.
Change of tide: The change of one tide condition (rising or falling) for the other (falling or
rising), or of one TIDAL CURRENT direction flow for the other.
Channel: (1) A natural or artificial waterway of perceptible extent which either periodically or
continuously contains moving water, or which forms a connecting link between two bodies of
water. (2) The part of a body of water deep enough to be used for navigation through an area
otherwise too shallow for navigation. (3) The deepest portion of a stream, BAY, or strait through
which the main volume of CURRENT of water flows. (4) (SMP) An open conduit for water
either naturally or artificially created, but does not include artificially created irrigation, return
flow or stockwatering channels (WAC 173-14-030 (8b)).
Chart datum: The plane or level to which soundings, tidal levels or water DEPTHS are
referenced, usually LOW WATER DATUM. See also DATUM PLANE and REFERENCE
Choppy sea: Short, rough waves tumbling with a short and quick motion. Short-crested waves
that may spring up quickly in a moderate breeze, and break easily at the crest.
Clastic rocks: Rocks built up of fragments which have been produced by the processes of
weathering and EROSION, and in general transported to a point of deposition.
Clay: A fine grained sediment with a typical grain size less than 0.004 mm. Possesses
electromagnetic properties which bind the grains together to give a bulk strength or cohesion.
Cliff: A high steep face of rock.
Climate change: Refers to any long-term trend in MEAN SEA LEVEL, wave height, wind
speed, drift rate etc.
Coast: A strip of land of indefinite length and width (may be tens of kilometers) that extends
from the SEASHORE inland to the first major change in terrain features.
Coastal currents: (1) Those CURRENTS which flow roughly parallel to the shore and
constitute a relatively uniform drift in the deeper water adjacent to the surf zone. These currents
may be tidal currents, transient, wind-driven currents, or currents associated with the distribution
of mass in local waters. (2) For navigational purposes, the term is used to designate a current in
coastwise shipping lanes where the tidal current is frequently rotary.
Coastal defense: General term used to encompass both coast protection against EROSION and
sea defense against flooding.
Coastal forcing: The natural processes that drive coastal hydro- and morphodynamics (e.g.
winds, waves, tides, etc).
Coastal management: The development of a strategic, long-term and sustainable land use
policy, sometimes also called shoreline management.
Coastal plain: The plain composed of horizontal or gently sloping strata of clastic material
fronting the COAST and generally representing a strip of recently emerged sea bottom that has
emerged from the sea in recent geologic times. Also formed by AGGRADATION.
Coastal processes: Collective term covering the action of natural forces on the shoreline, and
the nearshore seabed.
Coastal zone: The land-sea-air interface zone around continents and islands extending from the
landward edge of a BARRIER BEACH or SHORELINE of coastal bay to the outer extent of the
Coastline: (1) Technically, the line that forms the boundary between the COAST and the
SHORE. (2) Commonly, the line that forms the boundary between land and the water. (3) (SMP)
The line where terrestrial processes give way to marine processes, TIDAL CURRENTS, wind
waves, etc.
Cobble: Rounded rocks ranging in diameter from approximately 64 to 256 mm.
Colloid: As a size term refers to particles smaller than 0.00024 mm, smaller than CLAY size.
Comber: (1) A deepwater wave whose crest is pushed forward by a strong wind; much larger
than a whitecap. (2) A long-period BREAKER.
Compass, surveyors: A compass for determining the magnetic azimuth of a line of sight by
means of a sighting device, a graduated horizontal circle, and a pivoted magnetic needle.
Confluence: The junction of two or more river reaches or branches (the opposite of a
Conservation: The protection of an area, or particular element within an area, accepting the
dynamic nature of the environment and therefore allowing change.
Continental shelf: (1) The zone bordering a continent extending from the line of permanent
immersion to the DEPTH, usually about 100 m to 200 m, where there is a marked or rather steep
descent toward the great depths. (2) The area under active LITTORAL processes during the
Holocene period. (3) The region of the oceanic bottom that extends outward from the shoreline
with an average slope of less than 1:100, to a line where the GRADIENT begins to exceed 1:40
Continental slope: The declivity from the offshore border of the CONTINENTAL SHELF to
oceanic depths. It is characterized by a marked increase in slope.
Contour current: A bottom current that flows parallel to the slopes of the continental margin
(along the contour rather than down the slope).
Contour line: A line connecting points, on a land surface or sea bottom, which have equal
ELEVATION. It is called an ISOBATH when connecting points of equal DEPTH below a
Controlling depth: The least DEPTH in the navigable parts of a waterway, governing the
maximum draft of vessels that can enter.
Control network: Geodetic control together with the measured or adjusted values of the
distances, angels, directions, or heights used in determining the coordinates of the control.
Control, geodetic: A set of control stations established by geodetic methods.
Control, ground: A point or set of points, the coordinates of which have been determined by
survey, used for fixing the scale and position of a photogrammetrically determined network.
Control, horizontal: The geometric data relating to the horizontal coordinates of a control station.
Control, photogrammetric: Geodetic or other control established to provide scale, location, and
orientation for photogrammetric network.
Control, vertical: The elevations (or approximations thereto) associated with control points.
Coordinate system: A set of rules for specifying how coordinates are to be assigned to points.
Core: (1) A cylindrical sample extracted from a BEACH or seabed to investigate the types and
DEPTHS of sediment layers. (2) An inner, often much less permeable portion of a
Coriolis effect: Force due to the Earth's rotation, capable of generating currents. It causes
moving bodies to be deflected to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the
Southern Hemisphere. The "force" is proportional to the speed and latitude of the moving object.
It is zero at the equator and maximum at the poles.
Coset: A group of units of CROSS-BEDDING which shows a uniform direction of current flow.
Co-tidal lines: Lines which link all the points where the tide is at the same stage (or phase) of its
Countercurrent: A secondary current usually setting in a direction opposite to that of a main
Cove: A small sheltered recess in a shore or COAST, generally inside a larger EMBAYMENT.
Creek: (1) A stream, less predominant than a river, and generally tributary to a river. (2) A small
tidal CHANNEL through a coastal MARSH.
Creep: Very slow, continuous downslope movement of soil or debris.
Crenulate: An indented or wavy shoreline beach form, with the regular seaward- pointing parts
rounded rather than sharp, as in the CUSPATE type.
Cross-bedding: An arrangement of relatively thin layers of rock inclined at an angle to the more
nearly horizontal BEDDING PLANES of the larger rock unit. Also referred to as cross-
Cross sea: Confused, irregular state of the sea due to different groups of waves from different
directions raised by local winds.
Cross-shore: Perpendicular to the shoreline.
Current: (1) The flowing of water, or other liquid or gas. (2) That portion of a stream of water
which is moving with a velocity much greater than the average or in which the progress of the
water is principally concentrated. (3) Ocean currents can be classified in a number of different
ways. Some important types include the following:
Periodic - due to the effect of the tides; such CURRENTS may be rotating rather than having a
simple back and forth motion. The CURRENTS accompanying tides are known as TIDAL
Temporary - due to seasonal winds
Permanent or ocean - constitute a part of the general ocean circulation. The term DRIFT
CURRENT is often applied to a slow broad movement of the oceanic water
Nearshore - caused principally by waves breaking along a shore.
parallel to the COAST.
Current meter: An instrument for measuring the velocity of a CURRENT. It is traditionally
operated by a wheel equipped with vanes of cups which is rotated by the action of the impinging
CURRENT. A recording device is provided to indicate the speed of rotation which is correlated
with the velocity of the CURRENT.
Cusp: One of a series of short ridges on the FORESHORE separated by crescent-shaped troughs
spaced at more or less regular intervals. Between these cusps are hollows. The cusps are spaced
at somewhat uniform distances along beaches. They represent a combination of constructive and
destructive processes.
Cuspate: Form of BEACH shoreline involving sharp seaward-pointing CUSPS (normally at
regular intervals) between which the shoreline follows a smooth arc.
Cuspate foreland: A large, sandy cusp-shaped projection of the COAST. See Figure 5.
Cuspate sandkey: A cusp-shaped sand island.
Cuspate spit: A sandy cusp-shaped projection of the shoreline, found on both sides of some
Daily retardation of tides: The amount of time by which corresponding tidal phases grow later
day by day (about 50 minutes).
Dam: Structure built in rivers or estuaries, basically to separate water at both sides and/or to
retain water at one side.
Datum: Any position or element in relation to which others are determined, as datum point,
datum line, DATUM PLANE. See Figure 11.
Datum plane: A horizontal plane used as a reference from which to determine heights or
DEPTHS. The plane is called a TIDAL DATUM when defined by a certain phase of the tide.
Datum planes are referenced to fixed points known as BENCH MARKS, so that they can be
recovered when needed. See also REFERENCE PLANE.
Davidson current: Deep-ocean boundary current off the west coast of the U.S. which brings
warmer, saltier, low oxygen, high phosphate equatorial type water from low to high latitudes.
Debris line: A line near the limit of storm wave UPRUSH marking the landward limit of debris
Decay area: Area of relative CALM through which waves travel after emerging from the
Decay distance: The distance through which waves travel after leaving the GENERATING
Decay of waves: The change which occurs in waves when they leave a GENERATING AREA
and pass through a CALM (or region of lighter winds). In the process of decay the significant
wave length increases and the SIGNIFICANT WAVE HEIGHT decreases.
Deep water: In regard to waves, where DEPTH is greater than one-half the WAVE LENGTH.
Deep-water conditions are said to exist when the surf waves are not affected by conditions on the
Deep water waves: A wave in water the DEPTH of which is greater than one-half the WAVE
Deflation: The removal of loose material from a beach or other land surface by wind action.
Degradation: The geologic process by means of which various parts of the surface of the earth
are worn away and their general level lowered, by the action of wind and water.
Delta: (1) An ALLUVIAL DEPOSIT, usually triangular, at the mouth of a river of other stream.
It is normally built up only where there is no tidal or CURRENT action capable of removing the
sediment as fast as it is deposited, and hence the DELTA builds forward from the COASTLINE.
(2) A TIDAL DELTA is a similar deposit at the mouth of a tidal INLET, put there by TIDAL
CURRENTS. (3) A WAVE DELTA is a deposit made by large waves which run over the top of
a SPIT or BAR BEACH and down the landward side.
Density stratification: The lateral expansion of a sediment plume as it moves out of the
distributary mouth, where salt and fresh water mix. This is most likely to occur where the speed
of the river flow is moderate to low and the distributary mouth is relatively deep.
Density-driven circulation: Variations in salinity create variations in density in estuaries. These
variations in density create horizontal pressure gradients, which drive estuarine circulation.
Depression: A general term signifying any depressed or lower area in the ocean floor.
Depth: Vertical distance from still-water level (or DATUM as specified) to the bottom.
Depth, controlling: See CONTROLLING DEPTH.
Design storm: Coastal protection structures will often be designed to withstand wave attack by
the extreme DESIGN STORM. The severity of the storm (i.e. return period) is chosen in view of
the acceptable level of risk of damage or failure. A DESIGN STORM consists of a DESIGN
WAVE condition, a design water level and a DURATION.
Design wave: In the design of HARBORS, harbor works, etc., the type or types of waves
selected as having the characteristics against which protection is desired.
Detritus: Small fragments of rock which have been worn or broken away from a mass by the
action of water or waves.
Detached breakwater: A BREAKWATER without any constructed connection to the shore.
Diapositive: A positive photograph on a transparent medium.
Differential erosion / weathering: These features develop in rocks which have varying resistance
to the agencies of EROSION and/or weathering so that parts of the rock are removed at greater
rates than others. A typical example is the removal of soft beds from between harder beds in a
series of sedimentary rocks. The term may be applied to any size of feature, from small-scale
etching to the regional development of hills and valleys controlled by hard and soft rocks.
Diffraction: The phenomenon occurring when water waves are propagated into a sheltered region
formed by a BREAKWATER or similar barrier that interrupts a portion of the otherwise regular
train of waves, resulting in the multi-directional spreading of the waves.
Dike: Sometimes written as dyke; earth structure along a sea or river in order to protect
LITTORAL lands from flooding by high water; DIKES along rivers are sometimes called levees.
Direction of current: Direction toward which CURRENT is flowing.
Direction of waves: Direction from which waves are coming.
Direction of wind: Direction from which wind is blowing.
Disperse: (1) To spread or distribute from a fixed or constant source. (2) To cause to become
widely separated.
Dispersion: (1) Act of dispersing, or state of being dispersed. (2) The separation of waves by
virtue of their differing rates of travel.
Diurnal: Literally of the day, but here meaning having a period or a tidal day, i.e. about 24.84
hours. See Figure 11.
Diurnal current: The type of tidal CURRENT having only one flood and one EBB period in the
tidal day. A ROTARY CURRENT is DIURNAL if it changes its direction through all points of
the compass once each tidal day. See Figure 11.
Diurnal inequality: The difference in height of the two high waters or of the two low waters of
each day. Also, the difference in velocity between the two daily flood or EBB CURRENTS of
each day. See Figure 11.
Dock: The slip or waterway between two piers, or cut into the land, for the reception of ships.
Double ebb (tidal): An EBB CURRENT having two maxima of velocity separated by a smaller
EBB velocity.
Double flood (tidal): A flood CURRENT having two maxima of velocity separated by a smaller
flood velocity.
Double tide: A double-headed tide; that is, a high water consisting of two maxima of nearly the
same height separated by a relatively small DEPRESSION, or a LOW WATER consisting of
two minima separated by a relatively small ELEVATION.
Downdrift: The direction of predominant movement of littoral materials.
Downwelling: A downward movement (sinking) of surface water caused by onshore Ekman
transport, converging CURRENTS or when a water mass becomes more dense than the
surrounding water.
Drainage basin: Total area drained by a stream and its tributaries.
Dredging: (SMP) Excavation or displacement of the bottom or SHORELINE of a water body.
Dredging can be accomplished with mechanical or hydraulic machines. Most is done to maintain
channel depths or berths for navigational purposes; other dredging is for shellfish harvesting or
for cleanup of polluted sediments.
Drift current: A broad, shallow, slow-moving ocean or lake CURRENT. Opposite of STREAM
Drift sector: (SMP) A particular reach of marine shore in which LITTORAL DRIFT may occur
without significant interruption, and which contais any and all natural sources of such drift, and
also any accretion shoreforms accreted by such drift.
Drying beach: That part of the BEACH uncovered by water (e.g. at LOW TIDE). Sometimes
referred to as subaerial beach.
Dunes: (1) Accumulations of windblown sand on the BACKSHORE, usually in the form of
small hills or ridges, stabilized by vegetation or control structures. (2) A type of bed form
indicating significant sediment transport over a sandy seabed.
Duration: In forecasting waves, the length of time the wind blows in essentially the same
direction over the FETCH (GENERATING AREA).
Duration, minimum: The time necessary for steady-state wave conditions to develop for a
given wind velocity over a FETCH.
Duration of ebb: The interval of time in which a tidal current is ebbing, determined from the
middle of the slack waters.
Duration of fall: The interval from high water to low water.
Duration of flood: The interval of time in which a tidal current is flooding, determined from the
middle of slack waters.
Duration of rise: The interval from LOW WATER to high water.
Dynamic equilibrium: Short term morphological changes that do not affect the morphology
over a long period.
Ebb: Period when tide level is falling; often taken to mean the EBB CURRENT which occurs
during this period.
Ebb current: The movement of a tidal current away from shore or down a tidal stream. In the
semidiurnal type of reversing current, the terms GREATER EBB and LESSER EBB are applied
respectively to the ebb currents of greater and lesser velocity of each day. The terms of
MAXIMUM EBB and MINIMUM EBB are applied to the maximum and minimum velocities of
a continuously running ebb current, the velocity alternately increasing and decreasing without
coming to a slack or reversing. The expression MAXIMUM EBB is also applicable to any EBB
CURRENT at the time of greatest velocity.
Ebb interval: The interval between the transit of the moon over the meridian of a place and the
time of the following strength of EBB.
Ebb strength: The EBB CURRENT at the time of maximum velocity.
Ebb tidal delta: The bulge of sand formed at the SEAWARD mouth of TIDAL INLETS as a
result of interaction between tidal currents and waves. Also called inlet-associated bars and
estuary entrance shoals.
Ebb tide: A nontechnical term used for falling tide or EBB CURRENT. The portion of the tidal
cycle between high water and the following low water. See Figure 11.
Echo sounder: An instrument for determining the DEPTH of water by measuring the time of
travel of a sound-pulse from the surface of a body of water to the bottom and back.
Ecosystem: The living organisms and the nonliving environment interacting in a given area.
Eddy: A current of air, water, or any fluid, forming on the side of the main current, especially
one moving in a circle; in extreme cases a whirlpool.
Edge wave: An ocean wave parallel to the COAST, with crests normal to the shoreline. An
EDGE WAVE may be standing or progressive. Its height diminishes rapidly seaward and is
negligible at a distance of one wave length offshore.
Eelgrass: A submerged marine plant with very long narrow leaves.
Ekaman transport: Resultant flow at right angles to and to the right of the wind direction (in
the northern hemisphere) referred to as UPWELLING and DOWNWELLING.
elevation: The distance of a point above a specified surface of constant potential; the distance is
measured along the direction of gravity between the point and the surface.
Elutriation: The process by which a granular material can be sorted into its constituent particle
sizes by means of a moving stream of fluid (usually air or water). Elutriators are extensively
used in studies of sediments for determining PARTICLE SIZE distribution. Under certain
circumstances wind, rivers and streams may act as natural elutriating agents.
Embankment: An artificial BANK, mound, DIKE, or the like, built to hold back water or to carry
a roadway.
Embayed: Formed into a BAY or bays; as an embayed shore.
Embayment: (1) An indentation in a shoreline forming an open BAY. (2) The formation of a
Emergent coast: A COAST in which land formerly under water has recently been placed above
sea level, either by uplift of the land or by a drop in sea level.
Endemic: Native to a specific geographic area.
Entrance: The entrance to a navigable BAY, HARBOR or CHANNEL, INLET or mouth
separating the ocean from an inland water body.
Equatorial currents: (1) Ocean currents flowing westerly near the equator. There are two such
currents in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The one to the north of the equator is called the
North Equatorial Current and the one to the south is called the South Equatorial Current.
Between these two currents there is an easterly flowing stream known as the Equatorial
Countercurrent. (2) Tidal currents occurring semimonthly as a result of the moon being over the
equator. At these times the tendency of the moon to produce DIURNAL INEQUALITY in the
current is at a minimum.
Equatorial tides: Tides occurring semimonthly as the result of the moon being over the equator.
At these times the tendency of the moon to produce a DIURNAL INEQUALITY in the tide is at
a minimum.
Erosion: Wearing away of the land by natural forces. On a BEACH, the carrying away of beach
material by wave action, tidal currents or by DEFLATION. (2) (SMP) The wearing away of land
by the action of natural forces.
Escarpment: A more or less continuous line of CLIFFS or steep slopes facing in one general
direction which are caused by EROSION or faulting, also called SCARP.
Estuary: (1) A semi-enclosed coastal body of water which has a free connection with the open
sea. The seawater is usually measurably diluted with freshwater. (2) The part of the river that is
affected by tides. (3) (SMP) The zone or area of water in which freshwater and saltwater mingle
and water is usually brackish due to daily mixing and layering of fresh and salt water.
Eulittoral: That part of the LITTORAL ZONE less than 50 m in DEPTH.
Event: An occurrence meeting specified conditions, e.g. damage, a threshold wave height or a
threshold water level.
Facies: The sum total of features such as sedimentary rock type, MINERAL content,
SEDIMENTARY STRUCTURES, BEDDING characteristics, fossil content, etc. which
characterise a sediment as having been deposited in a given environment.
Fairway: The parts of a waterway kept open, and unobstructed, for navigation.
Fathom: A measure of water DEPTH equal to 1.83 m (6 feet).
Fault: A fracture in rock along which there has been an observable amount of displacement.
Faults are rarely single planar units; normally they occur as parallel to sub-parallel sets of planes
along which movement has taken place to a greater or lesser extent. Such sets are called fault or
Fauna: The entire group of animals found in an area.
Feeder beach: An artificially widened beach serving to nourish DOWNDRIFT beaches by
natural LITTORAL CURRENTS or other forces.
Feeder current: The currents which flow parallel to shore before converging and forming the
NECK of a RIP CURRENT. See Figure 7.
Fetch: The length of unobstructed open sea surface across which the wind can generate waves
Fetch length: (1) The horizontal distance (in the direction of the wind) over which a wind
generates SEAS or creates WIND SETUP. (2) The horizontal distance along open water over
which the wind blows and generates waves.
Fjord: A long, narrow arm of the sea, usually formed by entrance of the sea into a deep glacial
Floating bog: A grass or moss growth floating on a pool of water with high content of decayed
vegetation, grass and moss roots.
Flocculation: The change which takes place when the dispersed phase of a colloid forms a series
of discrete particles which are capable of settling out from the DISPERSION medium. In
geological processes, flocculation is almost inevitably a result of a colloidal solution mixing with
a solution containing electrolytes, e.g., sea water.
Flood: (1) Period when tide level is rising; often taken to mean the flood current which occurs
during this period. (2) A flow above the CARRYING CAPACITY of a CHANNEL.
Flood current: The movement of a tidal current toward the shore or up a tidal stream. In the
semidiurnal type of reversing current, the terms greater flood and lesser flood are applied
respectively to the flood currents of greater and lesser velocity each day. The terms maximum
flood and minimum flood are applied to the maximum and minimum velocities of a flood current
the velocity of which alternately increases and decreases without coming to slack or reversing.
The expression maximum flood is also applicable to any flood current at the time of greatest
Flood interval: The interval between the transit of the moon over the meridian of a place and the
time of the following flood.
Flood mark: Proof of any kind on the shoreline used to determine the highest level attained by
the water surface during the flood (note: the height of the flood mark usually includes the WAVE
Floodplain: (1) A flat tract of land bordering a river, mainly in its lower reaches, and consisting
of ALLUVIUM deposited by the river. It is formed by the sweeping of the meander belts
downstream, thus widening the valley, the sides of which may become some kilometers apart. In
time of flood, when the river overflows its banks, sediment is deposited along the valley banks
and plains. (2) (SMP) Synonymous with 100-year floodplain. The land area susceptible to being
inundated by stream derived waters with a 1 percent chance of being equaled or exceeded in any
given year. The limits of this area are based on flood regulation ordinance maps or reasonable
method that meets the objectives of the SMP (WAC 173-22-030(2)).
Flood routing: The attenuating effect of storage on a river-flood passing through a valley by
reason of a feature acting as control (e.g. a reservoir with a spillway capacity less than the flood
inflow, or the widening or narrowing of a valley).
Flood strength: The FLOOD CURRENT at time of maximum velocity.
Flood tidal delta: The bulge of sand formed at the LANDWARD mouth of TIDAL INLETS as
a result of flow expansion.
Flood tide: A nontechnical term used for rising tide or flood current. In technical language flood
refers to current. The portion of the tidal cycle between LOW WATER and the following high
water. See Figure12.
Flora: The entire group of plants found in an area.
Flushing time: The time required to replace all the water in an ESTUARY, HARBOR, etc., by
action of current and tide.
Foam: The light-colored substance which is made up of an aggregation of bubbles, formed on
the surface of liquids by violent agitation.
Foam line: (1) The front of a wave as it advances shoreward, after it has broken. (2) Lines of
foam such as those which move around the HEAD of a RIP.
Fog: Vapor condensed to fine particles of water and obscuring vision near the ground.
Following wind: A wind blowing in the same direction as the waves are travelling.
Foreshore: (1) The part of the shore, lying between the BERM CREST and the ordinary LOW
WATER mark, which is ordinarily traversed by the UPRUSH and BACKRUSH of the waves as
the tides rise and fall. (2) The same as the BEACH FACE where unconsolidated material is
present. (3) (SMP) In general terms, the BEACH between MEAN HIGHER HIGH WATER and
Freeboard: The additional height of a structure above design high water level to prevent
overflow. Also, at a given time, the vertical distance between the water level and the top of the
Frontager: Person or persons owning, and often living in, property immediately landward of the
Fully-developed sea: The waves that form when wind blows for a sufficient period of time
across the open ocean. The waves of a fully developed sea have the maximum height possible for
a given wind speed, FETCH and DURATION of wind.
Gabion: (1) Steel wire-mesh basket to hold stones or crushed rock to protect a BANK or bottom
from EROSION. (2) (SMP) Structures composed of masses of ROCKS, rubble or masonry held
tightly together usually by wire mesh so as to form blocks or walls. Sometimes used on heavy
erosion areas to retard wave action or as a foundation for BREAKWATERS or JETTIES.
Gale: A wind between a strong breeze and a storm. A continuous wind blowing in degrees of
moderate, fresh, strong, or whole gale and varying in velocity from 28 to 30 nautical miles per
Gauge: A device for measuring the water level relative to a DATUM.
Generating area: In wave forecasting, a continuous area of the water surface over which the
wind blows in essentially the same direction. Sometimes used synonymously with FETCH
Generation of waves: (1) The creation of waves by natural or mechanical means. (2) The
creation of and growth of waves by a wind blowing over a water surface for a certain length of
time. The area involved is called the GENERATING AREA or FETCH.
Geodesy (or geodetics): The science of dealing with the investigation of scientific questions
connected with the shape and dimensions of the Earth.
Geographic Information System (GIS): A system of spatially referenced information,
including computer programs that acquire, store, manipulate, analyze, and display spatial data.
Geoid: The equipotential surface of the Earths gravity field which best fits, in the least squares
Geology: The science which treats of the origin, history and structure of the Earth, as recorded in
rocks; together with the forces and processes now operating to modify rocks.
Geomorphology: (1) That branch of physical geography which deals with the form of the Earth,
the general configuration of its surface, the distribution of the land, water, etc. (2) The
investigation of the history of geologic changes through the interpretation of topographic forms.
Geophysics: The study of the physical characteristics and properties of the Earth.
Global Positioning System (GPS): A navigational and positioning system developed by the
U.S. Department of Defense, by which the location of a position on or above the Earth can be
determined by a special receiver at that point interpreting signals received simultaneously from
several of a constellation of special satellites.
Graded bedding: An arrangement of particle sizes within a single bed, with coarse grains at the
bottom of the bed and progressively finer grains toward the top of the bed.
Gradient: (1) A measure of slope (soil- or water-surface) in meters of rise or fall per meter of
horizontal distance. (2) More general, a change of a value per unit of distance, e.g. the
GRADIENT in longshore transport causes EROSION or ACCRETION. (3) With reference to
winds or currents, the rate of increase or decrease in speed, usually in the vertical; or the curve
that represents this rate.
Gravel: (1) Loose, rounded fragments of rock, larger than sand, but smaller than cobbles. (2)
Small stones and pebbles, or a mixture of these with sand.
Gravity wave: A wave whose velocity of propagation is controlled primarily by gravity. Water
waves more than 5 cm long are considered gravity waves. Waves longer than 2.5 cm and shorter
than 5 cm are in an indeterminate zone between CAPILLARY and GRAVITY WAVES. See
RIPPLE. See Figure 10.
Great diurnal range: The difference in height between MEAN HIGHER HIGH WATER and
MEAN LOWER LOW WATER. The expression may also be used in the contracted form diurnal
Groin: (1) A shore-protection structure (built usually to trap LITTORAL DRIFT or retard
EROSION of the shore). It is narrow in width (measured parallel to the shore) and its length may
vary from tens to hundreds of meters (extending from a point landward of the shoreline out into
the water). GROINS may be classified as permeable (with openings through them) or
impermeable (a solid or nearly solid structure). (2) (SMP) A barrier-type structure extending
from the BACKSHORE or stream bank into a water body for the purpose of the protection of a
SHORELINE and adjacent upland by influencing the movement of water and/or deposition of
Groin bay: The BEACH compartment between two groins.
Groin system: A series of GROINS acting together to protect a section of BEACH. Commonly
called a GROIN field.
Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR): A geophysical technology that uses radio waves to detect
buried objects and the internal structure of landforms.
Ground swell: (1) Long high SWELL in DEEP WATER. (2) Also, this swell as if rises to
prominent height in shoal water.
Ground water: Subsurface water occupying the zone of saturation. In a strict sense the term
applied only to water below the WATER TABLE.
Group velocity: The velocity at which a wave group travels. In DEEP WATER, it is equal to
one-half the individual wave velocity.
Gulf: A relatively large portion of sea, partly enclosed by land.
Gut: (1) A narrow passage such as a strait or INLET. (2) A CHANNEL in otherwise shallow
water, generally formed by water in motion.
Guyot: Flat-topped seamount.
Habitat: The place where an organism lives.
Half-tide level: A plane midway between MEAN HIGH WATER and MEAN LOW WATER,
also called MEAN TIDE LEVEL.
Halcocline: A zone in which salinity changes rapidly.
Harbor: A water area nearly surrounded by land, sea walls, BREAKWATERS or artificial dikes,
forming a safe anchorage for ships.
Hard defenses: A general term applied to impermeable COASTAL DEFENSE structures of
concrete, timber, steel, masonry, etc, which reflect a high proportion of INCIDENT WAVE
Head: (1) A comparatively high promontory with either a CLIFF or steep face. It extends into a
large body of water, such as a sea or lake. An unnamed HEAD is usually called a headland. (2)
The section of RIP CURRENT which has widened out seaward of the BREAKERS, also called
head of rip.
Headland: A land mass having a considerable ELEVATION. See Figure 13.
Heave: (1) The vertical rise or fall of the waves or the sea. (2) The translational movement of a
craft parallel to its vertical axis. (3) The net transport of a floating body resulting from wave
Heavy sea: A sea in which the waves run high.
Higher high water (HHW): The higher of the two high waters of any tidal day. The single high
water occurring daily during periods when the tide is DIURNAL is considered to be HIGHER
HIGH WATER. See Figure 11.
Higher low water (HLW): The higher of the two low waters of any tidal day. See Figure 11.
High seas: This term, in municipal and international law, denotes all that continuous body of salt
water in the world that is navigable in its character and that lies outside territorial waters and
maritime belts of the various countries, also called OPEN SEA.
High water (HW): Maximum height reached by a rising tide. The height may be solely due to
the periodic tidal forces or it may have superimposed upon it the effects of prevailing
meteorological conditions. Nontechnically, also called the HIGH TIDE.
High water line: The intersection of MEAN HIGH WATER with the shore. The shoreline
delineated on the nautical charts of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey is an approximation of
the mean high water line.
High water mark: A reference mark on a structure or natural object, indicating the maximum
stage of tide or flood.
Hindcasting: In wave prediction, the retrospective forecasting of waves using measured wind
information. See also WAVE HINDCASTING.
Hinterland: The region lying inland from the COAST.
Historic event analysis: Extreme analysis based on hindcasting typically ten events over a
period of 100 years.
Hook: A spit or narrow CAPE, turned landward at the outer end, resembling a hook in form.
Horizon: (1) The line or circle which forms the apparent boundary between Earth and sky. (2)
(Geological) A plane in rock strata characterized by particular features, as occurrence of
distinctive fossil species. One of the series of distinctive layers found in a vertical cross-section
of any well-developed soil.
Hurricane: A cyclonic storm, usually of tropic origin, covering an extensive area, and
containing winds in excess of 75 miles per hour.
Hydrography: (1) The description and study of seas, lakes, rivers and other waters. (2) The
science of locating aids and dangers to navigation. (3) The description of physical properties of
the waters of a region.
Impermeable groin: A GROIN through which sand can not pass.
Incident wave: Wave moving landward.
Infragravity waves: Waves with periods above about 30 seconds generated by wave groups
breaking in the surf zone. See LONG WAVES.
Inlet: (1) A narrow strip of water running into the land or between islands. (2) An arm of the sea
(or other body of water) that is long compared to its width, and that may extend a considerable
distance inland.
Inlet gorge: Generally, the deepest region of an INLET.
Inshore: (1) The region where waves are transformed by interaction with the sea bed. (2) In
beach terminology, the zone of variable width extending from the LOW WATER LINE through
Inshore current: Any current inside the SURF ZONE.
Intertidal: The zone between the high and LOW WATER marks.
Irregular waves: Waves with random wave periods (and in practice, also heights), which are
typical for natural wind-induced waves.
Isobath: Line connecting points of equal water DEPTH on a chart; a seabed contour.
Isostasy: The tendency of the Earths crust to maintain a state of near equilibrium, i.e., if
anything occurs to modify the existing state, a compensation change will occur to maintain a
Isotope: An atom with a specified number of protons and a specified number of neutrons.
Jetty: (1) On open seacoasts, a structure extending into a body of water to direct and confine the
stream or tidal flow to a selected CHANNEL, or to prevent shoaling. Jetties are built at the
mouth of a river or ENTRANCE to a BAY to help deepen and stabilize a CHANNEL and
facilitate navigation. (2) (SMP) A structure usually projecting out into the SEA at the mouth of a
river for the purpose of protecting a navigational channel, a harbor or to influence water currents.
Key: A low, insular BANK of sand, coral, etc., as one of the islets off the southern coast of
Knot: The unit of speed used in navigation. It is equal to one nautical mile (6076.115 feet or
1852 meters) per hour.
Lagging of tide: The periodic retardation in the time of occurrence of high and LOW WATER
due to changes in the relative positions of the moon and sun. See DAILY RETARDATION OF
Lagoon: A shallow body of water, as a pond or lake, which usually has a shallow restricted
INLET from the sea. See Figure 5.
Laminar flow: Slow, smooth flow, with each drop of water traveling a smooth path parallel to
its neighboring drops. Laminar flow is characteristic of low velocities, and particles of sediment
in the flow zones are moved by rolling or SALTATION.
Landlocked: Enclosed by land, or nearly enclosed, as a HARBOR.
Landmark: A conspicious object, natural or man-made, located near or on land, which aids in
fixing the position of an observer.
Leadline: A line, wire or cord used in sounding. It is weighted at one end with a plummet
(sounding lead). See also SOUNDING LINE.
Ledge: A rocky formation continuous with and fringing the shore.
Leeward: The direction toward which the prevailing wind is blowing; the direction toward
which waves are travelling.
Levee: (1) An EMBANKMENT to prevent inundation. (2) (SMP) A large DIKE or
EMBANKMENT, often having an access road along the top, which is designed as part of a
system to protect land from floods.
Light breeze: A wind with velocity from 4 to 6 nautical miles per hour.
Limit of backwash: The seaward limit of the BACKWASH at any given tide stage.
Limit of uprush: The landward limit of UPRUSH at any given tide stage.
Littoral: (1) Of, or pertaining to, a shore, especially a seashore. (2) (SMP) Living on, or
occurring on, the SHORE.
Littoral currents: A current running parallel to the BEACH and generally caused by waves
striking the shore at an angle.
Littoral deposits: Deposits of LITTORAL DRIFT.
Littoral drift: (1) The sedimentary material moved in the LITTORAL ZONE under the
influence of waves and currents. (2) (SMP) The mud, SAND, or GRAVEL material moved
parallel to the SHORELINE in the NEARSHORE ZONE by waves and CURRENTS.
Littoral transport: The movement of LITTORAL DRIFT in the LITTORAL ZONE by waves
and currents. Includes movement parallel (long shore drift) and sometimes also perpendicular
(CROSS-SHORE transport) to the shore.
Littoral transport rate: The rate of transport of sedimentary material parallel to or
perpendicular to the shore in the LITTORAL ZONE. Usually expressed in cubic meters (yards)
per year. Commonly used as synonymous with LONGSHORE TRANSPORT RATE.
Littoral zone: An indefinite zone extending seaward from the shoreline to just beyond the
Load: The quantity of sediment transported by a current. It includes the suspended load of small
particles in the water, and the bedload of large particles that move along the bottom.
Locally generated waves: Waves generated within the immediate vicinity, within
approximately 50 km, of the point of interest.
Longcrested waves: A wave, the crest length of which is long compared to the wave length.
Longshore: Parallel and close to the COASTLINE.
Longshore bar: A sand ridge or ridges, extending along the shore outside the trough, that may
be exposed at LOW TIDE or may occur below the water level in the offshore.
Longshore current: A current located in the surf zone, moving generally parallel to the
shoreline, generated by waves breaking at an angle with the shoreline, also called the
Longshore drift: Movement of sediments approximately parallel to the COASTLINE.
Longshore transport rate: Rate of transport of sedimentary material parallel to the shore.
Usually expressed in cubic meters (yards) per year. Commonly used as synonymous with
Longshore trough: An elongate DEPRESSION or series of depressions extending along the
lower BEACH or in the offshore zone inside the BREAKERS.
Long waves: Waves with periods above about 30 seconds; can be generated by wave groups
breaking in the surf zone. See also INFRAGRAVITY WAVES.
Loop: That part of a STANDING WAVE where the vertical motion is greatest and the
horizontal velocities are least.
Lower High Water (LHW): The lower of the two high waters of any tidal day. See Figure 11.
Lower low water (LLW): The lower of the two low waters of any tidal day. The single LOW
WATER occurring daily during periods when the tide is DIURNAL is considered to be LLW.
See Figure 11.
Lower low water datum: An approximation to the plane of MEAN LOWER LOW WATER
that has been adopted as a standard reference plane for a limited area and is retained for an
indefinite period regardless of the fact that it may differ slightly from a better determination of
MEAN LOWER LOW WATER from a subsequent series of observations. See Figure 11.
Low tide: See LOW WATER
Low tide terrace: A flat zone of the BEACH near the LOW WATER level.
Low water (LW): The minimum height reached by each falling tide. Nontechnically, also called
Low water line: The line where the established LOW WATER DATUM intersects the shore.
The plane of reference that constitutes the LOW WATER DATUM differs in different regions.
Lunar day: The time of rotation of the Earth with respect to the moon, or the interval between
two successive upper transits of the moon over the meridian of a place. The mean lunar day is
approximately 24.84 solar hours in length, or 1.035 times as great as the mean solar day. Also
called TIDAL DAY.
Lunar tide: The portion of the tide that can be attributed directly to attraction to the Moon.
Macro-tidal: Tidal range greater than 4 m.
Managed retreat: The deliberate setting back of the existing line of defense in order to obtain
engineering and/or environmental advantages.
Margin, continental: A zone separating a continent from the deep-sea bottom.
Marker, survey: An object placed at the site of a station to identify the surveyed location of that
Marker, reference: A mark of permanent character close to a survey station, to which it is related
by an accurately measured distance and azimuth (or bearing).
Marigram: A graphic record of the rise and fall of the tide. The record is in the form of a curve in
which time is represented by abscissas and the height of the tide by ordinates.
Marsh: (1) A tract of soft, wet land, usually vegetated by reeds, grasses and occasionally small
shrubs. (2) (SMP) Soft, wet area periodically or continuously flooded to a shallow depth, usually
characterized by a particular subclass of grasses, cattails and other low plants.
Marsh, diked: A former salt marsh which has been protected by a DIKE.
Marsh, salt: A MARSH periodically flooded by salt water.
Mass transport, shoreward: The movement of water due to wave motion, which carries water
through the BREAKER ZONE in the direction of wave propagation. Part of the NEARSHORE
Mean depth: The average DEPTH of the water area between the still water level and the
SHOREFACE profile from the waterline to any chosen distance seaward.
Mean higher high water (MHHW): The arithmetic average of the elevations of the higher high
waters of a mixed tide over a specific 19-year period. For shorter periods of observation,
corrections are applied to eliminate known variations and reduce the result to the equivalent of a
mean 19-year interval.
Mean high water (MHW): The average ELEVATION of all high waters recorded at a
particular point or station over a considerable period of time, usually 19 years. For shorter
periods of observation, corrections are applied to eliminate known variations and reduce the
result to the equivalent of a mean 19-year value. All high water heights are included in the
average where the type of tide is either semidiurnal or mixed. Only the higher high water heights
are included in the average where the type of tide is DIURNAL. So determined, MEAN HIGH
WATER in the latter case is the same as MEAN HIGHER HIGH WATER.
Mean high water springs (MHWS): The average height of the high water occurring at the time
of spring tides.
Mean lower low water (MLLW): The average height of the lower low waters over a 19-year
period. For shorter periods of observation, corrections are applied to eliminate known variations
and reduce the result to the equivalent of a mean 19-year value.
Mean low water (MLW): The average height of the low waters over a 19-year period. For
shorter periods of observation, corrections are applied to eliminate known variations and reduce
the result to the equivalent of a mean 19-year value.
Mean low water springs (MLWS): The average height of the low waters occurring at the time
of the spring tides.
Mean range of tide: The difference in height between MEAN HIGH WATER and MEAN
Mean rise of the tide: The height of MEAN HIGH WATER above the plane of reference or
DATUM of chart.
Mean sea level: The average height of the surface of the sea for all stages of the tide over a 19-
year period, usually determined from hourly height readings (see sea level datums).
Mean steepness: The ratio of the MEAN DEPTH to the horizontal distance over which the
MEAN DEPTH was determined.
Mean tide level: Same as HALF-TIDE LEVEL.
Mean water level: The mean surface level as determined by averaging the heights of the water
at equal intervals of time, usually at hourly intervals.
Mean wave period: The mean of all individual waves in an observation interval of
approximately half an hour.
Meso-tidal: Tidal range between 2 m and 4 m.
Meteorological tides: Tidal constituents having their origin in the daily or seasonal variation in
weather conditions which may occur with some degree of periodicity.
Micro-tidal: Tidal range less than 2 m.
Middleground shoal: A shoal formed by EBB and flood tides in the middle of the CHANNEL
of the LAGOON or ESTUARY end of an INLET.
Mid-extreme tide: A plane midway between the extreme high water and the extreme LOW
WATER occurring in any locality.
Mineral: A naturally occurring, inorganic, crystalline solid that has a definite chemical
composition and possesses characteristic physical properties.
Minimum fetch: The least distance in which steady state wave conditions will develop for a wind
of given speed blowing a given duration of time.
Mist: Water vapor suspended in the air in very small drops finer than rain, larger than FOG.
Mixed current: Type of tidal current characterized by a conspicious velocity difference between
the two floods or two ebbs usually occurring each tidal day. See also MIXED TIDE.
Mixed tide: Type of tide which the presence of a DIURNAL wave is conspicious by a large
inequality in either the high or LOW WATER heights with two high waters and two low waters
usually occurring each tidal day. In strictness, all tides are mixed, but the name is usually applied
without definite limits to the tide intermediate to those predominantly semidiurnal and those
predominantly DIURNAL.
Mole: In coastal terminology, a massive solid-filled structure (generally revetted) of earth,
masonry or large stone.
Monochromatic waves: A series of waves generated in a laboratory, each of which has the same
length and period.
Moraine: An accumulation of earth, stones, etc., deposited by a glacier, usually in the form of a
mound, ridge or other prominence on the terrain.
Morphodynamics: (1) The mutual interaction and adjustment of the seafloor topography and
fluid dynamics involving the motion of sediment. (2) The coupled suite of mutually
interdependent hydrodynamic processes, seafloor morph-ologies and sequences of change.
Morphology: River/ESTUARY/lake/seabed form and its change with time.
Mud flat: A muddy, low-lying strip of ground by the shore, or an island, usually submerged
more or less completely by the rise of the tide.
National Tidal Datum Epoch (NTDE): A period of 19 years adopted by the National Ocean
Service as the period over which observations of tides are to be taken and reduced to average
values for tidal datums.
Nautical mile: Also known as GEOGRAPHICAL MILE, its length is 1852 meters (6076.115
feet), approximately 1.15 times as long as the statute mile of 5280 feet.
Neap high water: See NEAP TIDE.
Neap low water: See NEAP TIDE.
Neap range: See NEAP TIDE.
Neap tidal current: Tidal current of decreased velocity occurring semimonthly as the result of
the moon being in quadrature.
Neap tide: Tide of decreased range occurring semimonthly as the result of the moon being in
quadrature. The NEAP RANGE of the tide is the average semidiurnal range occurring at the time
of neap tides and is most conveniently computed from the harmonic constants. The NEAP
RANGE is typically 10 to 30 percent smaller than the mean range where the type of tide is either
semidiurnal or mixed and is of no practical significance where the type of tide is DIURNAL. The
average height of the high waters of the neap tide is called NEAP HIGH WATER or HIGH
WATER NEAPS (MHWN), and the average height of the corresponding LOW WATER is
Nearshore: (1) In beach terminology an indefinite zone extending seaward from the
SHORELINE well beyond the BREAKER ZONE. (2) The zone which extends from the swash
zone to the position marking the start of the offshore zone, typically at water DEPTHS of the
order of 20 m.
Nearshore circulation: The ocean circulation pattern composed of the NEARSHORE
Nearshore current: The current system caused by wave action in and near the BREAKER
ZONE, and which consists of four parts: the shoreward mass transport of water; longshore
currents; rip currents; and the LONGSHORE movement of the expanding heads of rip currents.
Neck: (1) The narrow strip of land which connects a peninsula with the mainland, or connects
two ridges. (2) The narrow band (rip) of water flowing seaward through the surf. See also RIP
CURRENT. See Figure 7.
Ness: Roughly triangular promontory of land jutting into the sea, often consisting of mobile
material, i.e. a beach form.
Network: A set consisting of: (a) stations for which geometric relationships have been
determined and which are so related that removal of one station from the set will affect the
relationships (distances, directions, coordinates, etc.) between the other stations; and (b) lines
connecting the stations to show this interdependence.
Nip: The cut made by waves in a shoreline of emergence.
Nodal zone: An area in which the predominant direction of the LONGSHORE TRANSPORT
Nourishment: The process of replenishing a BEACH. It may be brought about naturally, by
LONGSHORE TRANSPORT, or artificially by the deposition of dredged materials.
Ocean: The great body of salt water which occupies two-thirds of the surface of the Earth, or one
of its major subdivisions.
Ocean current: A nontidal current constituting a part of the general oceanic circulation.
Oceanography: That science treating of the oceans, their forms, physical features and
Offshore: (1) In beach terminology, the comparatively flat zone of variable width, extending
from the SHOREFACE to the edge of the CONTINENTAL SHELF. It is continually submerged.
(2) The direction seaward from the shore. (3) The zone beyond the nearshore zone where
sediment motion induced by waves alone effectively ceases and where the influence of the sea
bed on wave action is small in comparison with the effect of wind. (4) The BREAKER ZONE
directly seaward of the LOW TIDE line.
Offshore breakwater: A BREAKWATER built towards the seaward limit of the LITTORAL
ZONE, parallel (or nearly parallel) to the shore.
Offshore currents: (1) Currents outside the surf zone. (2) Any current flowing away from the
shore. See Figure 7.
Offshore wind: A wind blowing seaward from the land in the coastal area.
Onshore: A direction landward from the sea.
Onshore current: Any current flowing towards the shore.
Onshore wind: A wind blowing landward from the sea.
Open sea: Same as HIGH SEAS.
Opposing winds: A wind blowing in the opposite direction to that in which the waves are
Ordinary high water mark (OHWM): (SMP) That mark that will be found by examining the
bed and banks and ascertaining where the presence and action of waters are so common and
usual, and so long continued in all ordinary years, as to mark upon the soil a character distinct
from that of the abutting upland, in respect to vegitation as that condition exists on June 1, 1971,
as it may naturally change thereafter, or as it may change thereafter in accordance with permits
issued by a local government or the department.
Ordinary tide: This expression is not used in a technical sense by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic
Survey, but the word "ordinary" when applied to tides, may be taken as the equivalent of the
word "mean". Thus "ordinary HIGH WATER LINE" may be assumed to be the same as "mean
high water line".
Orthophotograph: A photograph prepared from a perspective photograph by removing
distortions and displacements of points caused by tilt, relief, and perspective.
Orthophotomap: A map made by assembling a number of orthophotographs into a single,
composite picture.
Oscillation: A periodic motion backward and forward. To vibrate or vary above and below a
mean value.
Outcrop: A surface exposure of bare rock, not covered by soil or vegetation.
Outfall: (1) The vent of a river, drain, etc. (2) A structure extending into a body of water for the
purpose of discharging sewage, storm runoff or cooling water.
Outflanking: EROSION behind or around the inner end of a GROIN or BULKHEAD, usually
causing failure of the structure.
Overfalls: Breaking waves caused by a conflict of currents, or by the wind moving against the
Oversplash: The water that splashes over the top of a BREAKWATER, seawall, etc.
Overtopping: Water carried over the top of a COASTAL DEFENSE due to wave run-up or
surge action exceeding the crest height.
Overwash: (1) The part of the UPRUSH that runs over the crest of a BERM or structure and
does not flow directly back to the ocean or lake. (2) The effect of waves overtopping a
COASTAL DEFENSE, often carrying sediment landwards which is then lost to the beach
Partially mixed estuary: An ESTUARY that shows a small to moderate salinity change with
Particle size: in dealing with sediments and sedimentary rocks it is necessary that precise
dimensions should be applied to such terms as CLAY, sand, pebble, etc. Numerous scales have
been suggested, but in this work, the Wentworth-Udden scale is used, as it is widely accepted as
an international standard. In the table which follows, particle size limits are shown, but within
most groups further subdivision is possible; for example, sand may be described as very fine,
medium, coarse, very coarse. particle size is normally determined by hand measurement of
pebbles, cobbles, and BOULDERS, sieving of GRAVEL, sand and silt and ELUTRIATION of
silt and CLAY (7).
Size Range Particle
>256 mm. BOULDER
64 256 mm. Cobble
4 64 mm. Pebble
2 4 mm. Granule, gravel
1/16 2 mm. Sand
1/256 1/16 mm. Silt
<1/256 mm. CLAY
Peak period: The wave period determined by the inverse of the frequency at which the wave
energy spectrum reaches its maximum.
Pebbles: Beach material usually well-rounded and between about 4 mm to 64 mm diameter.
Peninsula: An elongated portion of land nearly surrounded by water and connected to a larger
body of land, usually by a NECK or an ISTHMUS.
Perigean range: The average semidiurnal range occurring at the time of the PERIGEAN TIDES
and most conveniently computed from the harmonic constants. It is larger than the mean range
where the type of tide is either semidiurnal or mixed and is of no practical significance where the
type of tide is DIURNAL.
Perigean tidal currents: Tidal currents of increased velocity occurring monthly as the result of
the moon being in perigree (i.e., at the point in its orbit nearest the Earth).
Perigean tides: tides of increased range occurring monthly as the result of the moon being in
Periodic current: A current caused by the tide-producing forces of the Moon and the Sun, a part
of the same general movement of the sea that is manifested in the vertical rise and fall of the
Permanent current: A current that runs continuously independent of the tides and temporary
cause. Permanent currents include the fresh water discharge of a river and the currents that form
the general circulatory systems of the ocean.
Permeability: The property of bulk material (sand, crushed rock, soft rock in situ) which permit
movement of water through its pores.
Permeable groin: A GROIN with openings large enough to permit passage of appreciable
quantities of LITTORAL DRIFT.
Petrology: That branch of GEOLOGY which treats of the scientific study of rocks.
Photic zone: The zone extending downward from the ocean surface within which the light is
sufficient to sustain photosynthesis. The DEPTH of this layer varies with water clarity, time of
year and cloud cover, but is about 100 m in the open ocean. It may be considered the DEPTH to
which all light is filtered out except for about one percent and may be calculated as about two
and one-half times the DEPTH of a SECCHI DISK reading.
Photogrammetry: The science of deducing the physical dimensions of objects from
measurements on images (usually photographs) of the objects.
Photomosaic: An assemblage of photographs, each of which shows part of a region, put together
in such a way that each point in the region appears once and only once in the assemblage, and
scale variation is minimized.
Physical geology: A large division of GEOLOGY concerned with earth materials, changes of
the surface and interior of the earth, and the forces that cause those changes.
Pier: A structure, usually of open construction, extending out into the water from the shore, to
serve as a landing place, recreational facility, etc., rather than to afford coastal protection.
Pile: A long substantial pole of wood, concrete or metal, driven into the earth or sea bed to serve
as a support or protection.
Piling, sheet: Interlocking member of wood, steel, concrete, etc., subject to lateral pressure,
driven individually to form an obstruction to percolation, to prevent movement of material for
seawalls, stabilization of foundations, etc.
Piping: EROSION of closed flow CHANNELS (tunnels) by the passage of water through soil;
flow underneath structures, carrying subsoil particles, may endanger the stability of the structure.
Pixel: An element of surface resulting from subdividing an image into the smallest identically
shaped figures that give information about the location, intensity and perhaps color of the source,
but such that no smaller subdivision will provide more information.
Placer deposits: MINERAL deposits consisting of dense, resistant and often economically
valuable minerals which have been weathered from TERRIGENOUS ROCKS, transported to the
sea and concentrated in marine sediments by wave or current action.
Placer mine: Surface mines in which valuable MINERAL grains are extracted from stream bar
or beach deposits.
Planform: The outline or shape of a body of water as determined by the stillwater line.
Plateau: (1) (Geographical) an elevated plain, tableland or flat-topped region of considerable
extent. (2) (Oceanographical) an ELEVATION from the bottom of the ocean with a more or less
flat top and steep sides.
Pleistocene: An epoch of the Quaternary Period characterized by several glacial ages.
Plunge point: (1) For a PLUNGING WAVE, the point at which the wave curls over and breaks.
(2) The final breaking point of the waves just before the water rushes up the BEACH.
Pocket beach: A BEACH, usually small, between two headlands.
Point: (1) The extreme end of a CAPE, or the outer end of any land area protruding into the
water, usually less prominent than a CAPE. (2) (SMP) A low profile SHORELINE
PROMONTORY of more or less triangular shape, the top of which extends SEAWARD.
Point bar: A stream bar deposited on the inside of a curve in the stream, where the water
velocity is low.
Port: A place where vessels may discharge or receive cargo.
Preservation: Static protection of an area or element, attempting to perpetuate the existence of a
given 'state'.
Profile, beach: See BEACH PROFILE
Progressive wave: A wave which is manifested by the progressive movement of the wave form.
Promontory: A high point of land extending into a body of water; a HEADLAND.
Quaternary: (1) The youngest geologic period; includes the present time. (2) The latest period of
time in the stratigraphic column, 0 2 million years, represented by local accumulations of
glacial (Pleistocene) and post-glacial (Holocene) deposits which continue, without change of
fauna, from the top of the Pliocene (Tertiary). The QUATERNARY appears to be an artificial
division of time to separate pre-human from post-human sedimentation. As thus defined, the
QUATERNARY is increasing in duration as mans ancestry becomes longer.
Radar: An instrument for determining the distance and direction to an object by measuring the
time needed for radio signals to travel from the instrument to the object and back, and by
measuring the angle through which the instruments antenna has traveled.
Radioactive dating (Radiometric dating): the most reliable method of obtaining a date for a
rock depends upon the observation that the rate of decay of a radioactive element is a constant.
The earliest methods, using uranium and thorium minerals as the starting material, yielded
evidence that the extent of geological time was at least 2 million years. The development of
knowledge concerning radioactive processes since 1939 has made available a number of refined
techniques for radioactive dating which are nowadays routine processes.
Raised beach: A wave-cut platform, with or without a covering of beach materials, which is now
raised above the present sea-level. See also REJUVENATION.
Random waves: The laboratory simulation of irregular sea states that occur in nature.
Range of tide: The difference in height between consecutive high and low waters. The MEAN
RANGE is the difference between MEAN HIGH WATER and MEAN LOW WATER. The
GREAT DIURNAL RANGE or DIURNAL RANGE is the difference in height between MEAN
type of tide is DIURNAL, the mean range is the same as the DIURNAL range. See Figure 11.
Ravinement: UNCONFORMITIES in a transgressional sequence of deposits which take on a
variety of forms based on wave energy and sediment supply.
Reach: (1) An arm of the ocean extending into the land. (2) A straight section of restricted
waterway of considerable extent; may be similar to a NARROWS, except much longer in extent.
Recent: (Geological) A synonym of Holocene. See also QUATERNARY.
Recession: (1) A continuing landward movement of the shoreline. (2) A net landward movement
of the shoreline over a specified time.
Rectification: The process of producing, from a tilted or oblique photograph, a photograph from
which displacement caused by tilt has been removed.
Recharge: The addition of new water to an AQUIFER or to the zone of saturation.
Red tide: Discoloration of surface waters, most frequently in COASTAL ZONES, caused by
large concentrations of microorganisms.
Reef: A ridge of rock or other material lying just below the surface of the sea.
Reef breakwater: Rubble mound of single-sized stones with a crest at or below sea level which
is allowed to be (re)shaped by the waves.
Reference plane: The plane to which sounding and tidal data are referred.
Reference point: (1) A specified location (in plan elevation) to which measurements are
referred. (2) In beach material studies, a specified point within the REFERENCE ZONE.
Reference station: A tide or current station for which tidal or tidal current constants have
previously been determined and which is used as a standard for the comparison of simultaneous
observations at a second station; also a station for which independent daily predictions are given
in the tide or current tables from which corresponding predictions are obtained for other stations
by means of differences or factors.
Reference zone: In regard to beach measuring procedure, the part of the FORESHORE subject
to wave action (between the LIMIT OF UPRUSH and the LIMIT OF BACKWASH) at mid-tide
stage. In areas of great tidal range a more complex definition is needed.
Reflected wave: That part of an INCIDENT WAVE that is returned (reflected) seaward when a
wave impinges on a BEACH, seawall or other reflecting surface.
Reflection: The process by which the energy of the wave is returned SEAWARD.
Reflection, seismic: See SEISMIC REFLECTION.
Refraction: The process by which the direction of a wave moving in shallow water at an angle to
the bottom contours is changed. The part of the wave moving shoreward in shallower water
travels more slowly than that portion in deeper water, causing the wave to turn or bend to
become parallel to the contours. See Figure 13.
Reflector: A surface, usually a rock or sediment layer, that strongly reflects seismic (sound)
Regular waves: Waves with a single height, period and direction.
Residual (water level): The components of water level not attributable to astronomical effects.
Resolution: (1) In general, a measure of the finest detail distinguishable in an object or
phenomenon. (2) In particular, a measure of the finest detail distinguishable in an image.
Retardation: The amount of time by which corresponding tidal phases grow later day by day
(about 50 minutes).
Return period: Average period of time between occurrences of a given EVENT.
Reversing tidal current: A tidal current that flows alternately in approximately opposite
directions with a SLACK WATER at each reversal of direction. Currents of this type usually
occur in rivers and straits where the direction of flow is more or less restricted to certain
CHANNELS. When the movement is towards the shore, the current is said to be flooding, and
when in the opposite direction it is said to be ebbing.
Revetment: (1) A facing of stone, concrete, etc., to protect an EMBANKMENT, or shore
structure, against EROSION by wave action or currents. (2) A retaining wall. (3) (SMP) Facing
of stone, concrete, etc., built to protect a SCARP, EMBANKMENT or shore structure against
erosion by waves of CURRENTS.
Rill marks: Small drainage CHANNELS forming in the lower portion of a BEACH at LOW
Riparian: (1) Pertaining to the banks of a body of water. (2) (SMP) Of, on or pertaining to the
banks of a river.
Rip Channel: A CHANNEL cut by seaward flow of RIP CURRENT, usually crosses a
Rip current: A strong surface current of short duration flowing seaward from the shore. It usually
appears as a visible band of agitated water and is the return movement of water piled up on the
shore by incoming waves and wind. A rip current consists of three parts: the FEEDER
CURRENT flowing parallel to the shore inside the BREAKERS; the NECK, where the FEEDER
CURRENTS converge and flow through the breakers in a narrow band or "rip"; and the HEAD,
where the current widens and slackens outside the breaker line. See Figure 7.
Ripple: (1) The light fretting or ruffling on the surface of the water caused by a breeze. (2) The
smallest class of waves and one in which the force of restoration is, to a significant degree, both
surface tension and gravity.
Ripple-drift bedding (Ripple-drift cross-bedding): See CROSS-BEDDING.
Ripple marks: Undulations produced by fluid movement over sediments. Oscillatory currents
produce symmetric ripples whereas a well-defined current direction produces asymmetrical
ripples. The crest line of ripples may be straight or sinuous. The characteristic features of ripples
depend upon current velocity, particle size, persistence of current direction and whether the fluid
is air or water. Sand DUNES may be regarded as a special kind of super-ripple.
Riprap: (1) Broken stones used for revetment, toe protection for BLUFFS, or structures exposed
to wave action, foundations, etc. (2) Foundation of wall or stones placed together irregularly. (3)
(SMP) A layer, facing or protective mound of stones placed to prevent EROSION, scour or
sloughing of a structure or EMBANKMENT; also the stone so used.
Rips: Agitation of water caused by the meeting of currents or by rapid current setting over an
irregular bottom.
Risk analysis: Assessment of the total risk due to all possible environmental inputs and all
possible mechanisms.
River: A natural stream of water larger than a brook or CREEK.
Rocks: An aggregate of one or more minerals rather large in area. The three classes of rocks are
the following: (1) Igneous rock crystalline rocks formed from molten material. Examples are
granite and basalt. (2) Sedimentary rock A rock resulting from the consolidatrion of loose
sediment that has accumulated in layers. Examples are sandstone, shale and limestone. (3)
Metamorphic rock Rock that has formed from preexisting rock as a result of heat or pressure.
Roller: (1) An indefinite term, sometimes considered to denote one of a series of long-crested
waves which roll in upon a COAST, as after a storm. (2) Long, high SWELL, also called a
Rotary current, tidal: A tidal current that flows continually with the direction of flow changing
through all points of the compass during the tidal period. Rotary currents are usually found
offshore where the direction of flow is not restricted by any barriers. The tendency for the
rotation in direction has its origin in the deflecting force of the earths rotation and, unless
modified by local conditions, the change is clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and
counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. The velocity of the current usually varies
throughout the tidal cycle, passing through two maxima in approximately opposite directions and
two minima with the direction of the current at approximately ninety degrees from the direction
at the time of maximum velocity.
Runnel: A corrugation or trough formed in the foreshore or in the bottom just offshore by waves
or tidal currents.
Run-up: the rush of water up a structure or BEACH on the breaking of a wave. The amount of
run-up is the vertical height above still water level that the rush of water reaches.
Salient: Coastal formation of beach material developed by wave refraction and DIFFRACTION
and longshore drift comprising of a bulge in the COASTLINE towards an offshore island or
BREAKWATER, but not connected to it as in the case of a tombolo. See also ness, CUSP.
Salinity: Number of grams of salt per thousand grams of sea water, usually expressed in parts
per thousand.
Salinity gradient: Change in salinity with DEPTH, expressed in parts per thousand per foot.
Saltation: A term used to describe the movement of a particle being transported by wind or
water which is too heavy to remain in suspension. The particle is rolled forward by the current,
generates lift and rises, loses the forward momentum supplying the lift and settles to the floor,
where the process is repeated. The size of the particles which can be saltated depends upon the
velocity of the current and its density, e.g., water will saltate larger particles than air at the same
Salt-wedge estuary: In this circulation type, the density-driven component dominates and two
well-mixed layers are separated by a sharp HALOCLINE. The seawater entering the CHANNEL
appears as a tongue or wedge.
Sand: An unconsolidated (geologically) mixture of inorganic soil (that may include disintegrated
shells and coral) consisting of small but easily distinguishable grains ranging in size from about
.062 mm to 2.0 mm.
Sand bar: (1) See BAR. (2) In a river, a ridge of sand built to or near the surface by river
Sand dune: A DUNE formed of sand.
Sand spit: A narrow sand EMBANKMENT, created by an excess of deposition at its seaward
terminus, with its distal end (the end away from the point of origin) terminating in open water.
Sand waves: (1) Longshore sand waves are large-scale features that maintain form while
migrating along the shore with speeds on the order of kilometers per year. (2) Large-scale
asymmetrical bedforms in sandy river beds having high length to height ratios and continuous
Scour protection: Protection against EROSION of the seabed in front of the toe.
Sea: (1) See OCEAN. (2) A large body of salt water, second in rank to an ocean, more or less
LANDLOCKED and generally part of, or connected with, an ocean or a larger sea. (3) Waves
caused by wind at the place and time of observation. (4) State of the ocean or lake surface, in
regard to waves.
Sea breeze: A breeze that blows from the sea toward the land caused by unequal heating of land
and water masses.
Sea cliff: A CLIFF situated at the seaward edge of the coast. See Figure 2.
Seacoast: The coast adjacent to the sea or ocean.
Sea defenses: Works to prevent or alleviate flooding by the sea.
Sea grass: Members of marine seed plants that grow chiefly on sand or sand-mud bottom. They
are most abundant in water less than 9 m deep. The common types are: Eel grass (Zostera),
Turtle grass (Thallasia) and Manatee grass (Syringodium).
Sea level rise: The long-term trend in MEAN SEA LEVEL.
Sea puss: A dangerous LONGSHORE CURRENT; a rip current caused by return flow; loosely,
the submerged CHANNEL or INLET through a BAR caused by those currents.
Seamount: Conical mountain rising 1000 m or more above the sea floor.
Seashore: (1) (Law) All ground between the ordinary high-water and low-water mark. (2) The
SHORE of the SEA or OCEAN.
Seawall: (1) A structure built along a portion of a coast primarily to prevent EROSION and
other damage by wave action. It retains earth against its shoreward face. (2) (SMP) A structure
separating land and water areas primarily to prevent EROSION and other damage by wave
action. Generally more massive and capable of resisting greater wave forces than a
Sechhi disk: Visibility disk used to measure the transparency of the water column.
Sediment: (1) Loose, fragments of rocks, minerals or organic material which are transported
from their source for varying distances and deposited by air, wind, ice and water. Other
sediments are precipitated from the overlying water or form chemically, in place. Sediment
includes all the unconsolidated materials on the sea floor. (2) (SMP) The fine grained material
deposited by water or wind.
Sediment cell: In the context of a strategic approach to COASTAL MANAGEMENT, a length of
COASTLINE in which interruptions to the movement of sand or shingle along the beaches or
nearshore sea bed do not significantly affect beaches in the adjacent lengths of COASTLINE.
Sediment sink: A point or area at which beach material is irretrievably lost from a coastal cell,
such as an ESTUARY, or a deep CHANNEL in the seabed. See Figure 8.
Sediment source: A point or area on a COAST from which beach material arises, such as an
eroding CLIFF, or river mouth. See Figure 8.
Sediment transport: The main agencies by which sedimentary materials are moved are: gravity
(gravity transport); running water (rivers and streams); ice (glaciers); wind; the sea (currents and
LONGSHORE DRIFT). Running water and wind are the most widespread transporting agents.
In both cases, three mechanisms operate, although the particle size of the transported material
involved is very different, owing to the differences in density and viscosity of air and water. The
three processes are: rolling or TRACTION, in which the particle moves along the BED but is too
heavy to be lifted from it; SALTATION; and SUSPENSION, in which particles remain
permanently above the BED, sustained there by the TURBULENT FLOW of the air or water.
See Figure 8.
Sediment transport paths: The routes along which net sediment movement occurs.
Seismic reflection: The return of part of the energy of seismic waves to the earths surface after
the waves bounce off a rock boundary.
Seismic refraction: The bending of seismic waves as they pass from one material to another.
Seismic waves: A long-period wave caused by an underwater seismic disturbance or volcanic
Semidiurnal: Having a period or cycle of approximately one-half of a tidal day (12.4 hours). The
predominating type of tide throughout the world is semidiurnal, with two high waterS and two
low waters each tidal day. The tidal current is said to be semidiurnal when there are two flood
and two EBB periods each day. See Figure 11.
Semidiurnal tide: Tides occurring twice daily. There are two high and two lows per tidal day.
See Figure12.
Sensing, remote: The response of an instrument or organism to stimuli from a distant source.
Set (of current): The direction towards which a current flows.
Setback: (SMP) A required open space, specified in shoreline master programs, measured
horizontally upland from an perpendicualr to the ordinary high water mark.
Shallow water: Water of such DEPTH that surface waves are noticeably affected by bottom
topography. Typically this implies a water DEPTH equivalent to less than half the wave length.
Shallow water wave: A PROGRESSIVE GRAVITY WAVE which is in water less than 1/25
the wave length in DEPTH.
Sheet erosion: The removal of a thin layer of surface material, usually topsoil, by a flowing
sheet of water.
Sheet flow: Sediment grains under high sheer stress moving as a layer that extends from the bed
surface to some distance below (on the order of a few cm). Grains are transported in the direction
of fluid flow.
Sheet, smooth: A sheet on which field control and hydrographic data such as soundings, depth
curves, and regions surveyed with a wire drag are finally plotted before being used in making a
final chart.
Shelf, continental: See CONTINENTAL SHELF.
Shingle: A loose term for coarse beach material, a mixture of GRAVEL, pebbles and larger
material, often well-rounded and of hard rock, e.g. chert, flint etc.
Shoal: (1) (noun) A detached area of any material except rock or coral. The DEPTHS over it are
a danger to surface navigation. Similar continental or insular shelf features of greater DEPTHS
are usually termed BANKS. (2) (verb) To become shallow gradually. (3) To cause to become
shallow. (4) To proceed from a greater to a lesser DEPTH of water.
Shore: That strip of ground bordering any body of water which is alternately exposed, or
covered by tides and/or waves. A SHORE of unconsolidated material is usually called a
Shoreface: The narrow zone seaward from the LOW TIDE SHORELINE permanently covered
by water, over which the beach sands and GRAVELS actively oscillate with changing wave
Shoreline: (1) The intersection of a specified plane of water with the shore. (2) (SMP) All of the
water areas of the state, including reservoirs and their associated uplands, together with the lands
underlying them, except those areas excluded under RCW 90.58.030(2)(d).
Shoreline management: The development of strategic, long-term and sustainable COASTAL
DEFENSE and land-use policy within a sediment cell.
Short-crested wave: A WAVE, the CREST LENGTH of which is of the same order of
magnitude as the WAVE LENGTH. A system of SHORT-CRESTED WAVES has the
appearance of hills being separated by troughs.
Shore terrace: A terrace made along a COAST by the action of waves and shore currents; it
may become land by the uplifting of the shore or the lowering of the water.
Significant wave: A statistical term relating to the one-third highest waves of a given wave
group and defined by the average of their heights and periods.
Significant wave height: Average height of the highest one-third of the waves for a stated
interval of time.
Significant wave period: Average period of the highest one-third of the waves for a stated
interval of time.
Silt: sediment particles with a grain size between 0.004 mm and 0.062 mm, i.e. coarser than
CLAY particles but finer than sand.
Slack water (slack tide): The state of a tidal current when its velocity is near zero, especially the
moment when a reversing current changes its direction and its velocity is zero. The term is also
applied to the entire period of low velocity near the time of turning of the current when it is too
weak to be of any practical importance in navigation. The relation of the time of slack water to
the tidal phases varies in different localities. In some places slack water occurs near the times of
high and low water, while in other localities the slack water may occur midway between high
Slide: In mass wasting, movement of a descending mass along a plane approximately parallel to
the slope of the surface.
Slip face: The steep, downwind slope of a dune; formed from loose, cascading sand that
generally keeps the slope at the ANGLE OF REPOSE (about 34 degrees).
Slope: The degree of inclination to the horizontal. Usually expressed as a ratio, such as 1:25,
indicating one unit rise in 25 units of horizontal distance; or in a decimal fraction (0.04). Also
called GRADIENT.
Slough: A small muddy marshland or tidal waterway which usually connects other tidal areas.
Slump: In mass wasting, movement along a curved surface in which the upper part moves
vertically downward while the lower part moves outward.
Small diurnal range: Difference in height between MEAN LOWER LOW WATER (MLLW)
and MEAN HIGHER HIGH WATER (MHHW). Applicable only when the type of tide is either
Soft defenses: Usually refers to beaches (natural or designed) but may also relate to energy-
absorbing beach-control structures, including those constructed of rock, where these are used to
control or redirect COASTAL PROCESSES rather than opposing or preventing them.
Soil: A layer of weathered, unconsolidated material on top of bed rock; often also defined as
containing organic matter and being capable of supporting plant growth.
Soil horizons: Layers of soil that are distinguishable by characteristic physical or chemical
Solitary wave: A wave consisting of a single ELEVATION (above the water surface) of height
not necessarily small compared to the DEPTH, and neither followed or preceded by another
ELEVATION or DEPRESSION of the water surface.
Sorting: Process of selection and separation of sediment grains according to their grain size (or
grain shape or specific gravity).
Sound: (1) (noun) a relatively long arm of the sea or ocean forming a CHANNEL between an
island and a mainland or connecting two larger bodies, as a sea and the ocean, or two parts of the
same body; usually wider and more extensive than a STRAIT. (2) (verb) To measure the DEPTH
of the water.
Sounding: A measured DEPTH of water. On hydrographic charts the soundings are adjusted to a
specific plane of reference (SOUNDING DATUM).
Sounding datum: The plane to which SOUNDINGS are referred. See CHART DATUM.
Sounding line: A line, wire or cord used in SOUNDING. It is weighted at one end with a
Spit: (1) A long narrow accumulation of sand or shingle, lying generally in line with the
COAST, with one end attached to the land the other projecting into the sea or across the mouth
of an ESTUARY. See also ness. (2) (SMP) An accretion shoreform which extends seaward from
and parallel to the SHORELINE. See Figure 5.
Spring range: The average SEMIDIURNAL RANGE occurring at the time of SPRING TIDES
and most conveniently computed from the harmonic constants. It is larger than the MEAN
RANGE where the type of tide is either SEMIDIURNAL or MIXED, and is of no practical
significance where the type of tide is DIURNAL.
Spring tidal currents: Tidal currents of increased velocity occurring semi-monthly as the result
of the moon being new or full.
Spring tide: A tide that occurs at or near the time of new or full moon, and which rises highest
and falls lowest from the MEAN SEA LEVEL (MSL).
Stand of tide: An interval at high or LOW WATER when there is no discernable change in the
height of the tide. The water level is stationary at high and LOW WATER for only an instant, but
the change in level near these times is so slow that it is not usually perceptible. See SLACK
Standing wave: (1) A type of wave in which the surface of the water oscillates vertically
between fixed nodes without progressing. (2) A wave of essentially stable form which does not
move with respect to a selected reference point.
Station, control: A point on the ground whose horizontal or vertical location is used as a basis
for obtaining locations of other points.
Step: The nearly horizontal section which more or less divides the BEACH from the
SHOREFACE. See Figure 3.
Stillwater level (SWL): The surface of the water if all wave and wind action were to cease. In
DEEP WATER this level approximates the midpoint of the wave height. In shallow water it is
nearer to the trough than the crest. Also called the UNDISTURBED WATER LEVEL.
Stone: Quarried or artificially broken rock for use in construction.
Storm surge: A rise or piling-up of water against shore, produced by strong winds blowing
ONSHORE. A storm surge is most severe when it occurs in conjunction with a high tide. See
Figure 10.
Strait: A relatively narrow waterway between two larger bodies of water. See SOUND.
Strand: The SHORE or BEACH of the ocean or a large lake. The land bordering any large body
of water, especially a sea or an arm of the ocean.
Strand line: An accumulation of debris (e.g. seaweed, driftwood and litter) cast up onto a
BEACH, and lying along the limit of wave up rush.
Stratigraphy: (1) The study of stratified rocks (sediments and volcanics) especially their
sequence in time. (2) The character of the rocks and the correlation of beds in different localities.
Stream: (1) Any flow of water; a current. (2) A course of water flowing along a bed in the earth.
Stream current: A narrow, deep and swift ocean current, such as the Gulf Stream. Opposite of
Structural geology: The branch of GEOLOGY concerned with the internal structure of bed rock
and the shapes, arrangement, and interrelationships of rock units.
Sub-aerial beach: That part of the BEACH which is uncovered by water (e.g. at LOW TIDE
sometimes referred to as DRYING BEACH).
Subduction zone: Elongate region in which the sea floor slides beneath a continent or island arc.
Submarine canyon: V-shaped valleys that run across the CONTINENTAL SHELF and down the
Submergent coast: A COAST in which formerly dry land has been recently drowned, either by
land subsidence or a rise in seal level.
Subordinate station: A tide or current station at which a short series of observations has been
obtained, which is to be reduced by comparison with simultaneous observations at another
station having well-determined tidal or current constants.
Subsidence: Sinking or downwarping of a part of the earths surface.
Sub-tidal beach: The part or the BEACH (where it exists) which extends from LOW WATER
out to the approximate limit of storm EROSION. The latter is typically located at a maximum
water DEPTH of 8 to 10 m for moderate wave environments and is often identifiable on surveys
by a break in the slope of the BED.
Surf: (1) Collective term for BREAKERS. (2) The wave activity in the area between the
SHORELINE and the outermost limit of breakers. (3) The term surf in literature usually refers to
the breaking waves on shore and on reefs when accompanied by a roaring noise caused by the
larger waves breaking.
Surf zone: The nearshore zone along which the waves become BREAKERS as they approach
the shore. See Figure 6.
Surface gravity wave (progressive): (1) this is the term which applies to the WIND WAVES and
SWELL of lakes and oceans, also called SURFACE WATER WAVE, SURFACE WAVE or
DEEP WATER WAVE, (2) a progressive GRAVITY WAVE in which the disturbance is
confined to the upper limits of a body of water. Strictly speaking this term applies to those
progressive GRAVITY WAVES whose celerity depends only upon the wave length. See Figure
Surface wave: see SURFACE GRAVITY WAVE (PROGRESSIVE). See Figure 10.
Surf beat: irregular oscillations of water level within the SURF ZONE with periods in the order
of several minutes.
Surf zone: The zone of wave action extending from the water line (which varies with tide, surge,
set-up, etc.) out to the most seaward point of the zone (BREAKER ZONE) at which waves
approaching the COASTLINE commence breaking, typically in water DEPTHS of between 5 m
and 10 m. See Figure 6.
Surge: (1) Long-interval variations in velocity and pressure in fluid flow, not necessarily
periodic, perhaps even transient in nature. (2) The name applied to wave motion with a period
intermediate between that of an ordinary wind wave and that of the tide. (3) Changes in water
level as a result of meteorological forcing (wind, high or low barometric pressure) causing a
difference between the recorded water level and that predicted using harmonic analysis, may be
positive or negative.
Survey, control: A survey that provides coordinates (horizontal or vertical) of points to which
supplementary surveys are adjusted.
Survey, hydrographic: A survey that has as its principal purpose the determination of geometric
and dynamic characteristics of bodies of water.
Survey, photogrammetric: A survey in which monuments are placed at points that have been
determined photogrammetrically.
Survey, topographic: A survey which has, for its major purpose, the determination of the
configuration (relief) of the surface of the land and the location of natural and artificial objects
Suspended load: The finest of the beach sediments, light enough in weight to remain lifted
indefinitely above the bottom by water turbulence.
Swash: (1) Same as UPRUSH. (2) A body of dashing, splashing water. (3) A BAR over which
the ocean washes.
Swash bars: Low broad sandy BARS formed by sediment in the surf and swash zones, separated
by linear depressions, or RUNNELS, running parallel to the SHORE.
Swash channel: A narrow sound or CHANNEL of water lying within a sandbank, or between a
sandbank and a shore.
Swash mark: The thin wavy line of fine sand left by the UPRUSH when it recedes from its
upward limit of movement on the BEACH FACE.
Swash zone: The zone of wave action on the beach, which moves as water levels vary,
extending from the limit of run-down to the limit of run-up. See Figure 6.
Swell: Waves that have traveled a long distance from their GENERATING AREA and have
been sorted out by travel into LONG WAVES of the same approximate period.
Tectonic forces: Forces generated from within the earth that result in uplift, movement, or
deformation of part of the earths crust.
Tectonics: The study of the major structural features of the Earths crust or the broad structure of
a region.
Terrigenous sediments: Literally land-formed sediment that has found its way to the sea floor.
The term is applied (a) to sediments formed and deposited on land (e.g., soils, sand DUNES) and
(b) to material derived from the land when mixed in with purely marine material (e.g., sand or
CLAY in a shelly limestone).
Terrace: A horizontal or nearly horizontal natural or artificial topographic feature interrupting a
steeper slop, sometimes occurring in a series.
Thalweg: The line down the center of the main CHANNEL of a stream.
Threshold velocity: The maximum orbital velocity at which the sediment on the BED begins to
move as waves approach shallow water.
Tidal current: The alternating horizontal movement of water associated with the rise and fall of
the tide caused by ASTRONOMICAL TIDE-producing forces.
Tidal datum: See REFERENCE PLANE.
Tidal day: See LUNAR DAY.
Tidal delta: See DELTA.
Tidal flats: (1) Marshy or muddy areas covered and uncovered by the rise and fall of the tide. A
TIDAL MARSH. (2) (SMP) Marshy or muddy areas of the seabed which are covered and
uncovered by the rise and fall of tidal water.
Tidally driven circulation: The movement of fresh water and seawater that are mixed by the
sloshing back and forth of the ESTUARY in response to ocean tides.
Tidal marsh: Same as TIDAL FLATS.
Tidal period: The interval of time between two consecutive like phases of the tide or tidal
current. See Figure 11.
Tidal pool: A pool of water remaining on a BEACH or REEF after recession of the tide.
Tidal prism: (1) The total amount of water that flows into a HARBOR or out again with
movement of the tide, excluding any fresh water flow. (2) (SMP) The volume of water present
Tidal range: See RANGE OF TIDE.
Tidal rise: The height of tide as referred to the DATUM of a chart. See Figure 11.
Tidal stand: An interval at high or LOW WATER when there is no observable change in the
height of the tide. The water level is stationary at high and LOW WATER for only an instant, but
the change in level near these times is so slow that it is not usually perceptible.
Tidal wave: (1) A wave, in the oceans and seas, produced by tides and tidal currents. (2) Non-
technical term in popular usage for an unusually high and destructive water level along a shore.
It usually refers to STORM SURGE or TSUNAMI.
Tide: The periodic rising and falling of the water that results from gravitational attraction of the
moon and sun acting upon the rotating earth. Although the accompanying horizontal movement
of the water resulting from the same cause is also sometimes called the tide, it is preferable to
designate the latter as TIDAL CURRENT, reserving the name TIDE for the vertical movement.
See Figure 11.
Tide, astronomic: The periodic change in magnitude and direction of gravity as caused by
attraction of the Sun, Moon, and other members of the Solar system.
Tide, diurnal: See DIURNAL.
Tide, Ebb: See EBB TIDE.
Tide, flood: See FLOOD TIDE.
Tide gage: A device for measuring the rise and fall, and the current height of the tide.
Tide level: The height of the tide above a specified level.
Tide, mixed: See MIXED TIDES.
Tide, neap: See NEAP TIDES.
Tides, rip: See RIP.
Tide, slack: See SLACK WATER.
Tide, spring: See SPRING TIDES.
Tide staff: A tide gage consisting of a vertical graduated staff from which the height of the tide
can be read directly. It is called a fixed staff when it is secured in place so that it cannot be easily
removed. A portable staff is one that is designed for removal from the water when not in use.
Tide station: The geographic location at which tidal observations are made. It is called a
primary tide station when continuous observations are to be taken over a number of years to
obtain basic tidal data for the locality. A secondary tide station is one operated over a short
period of time to obtain data for a specific purpose.
Tide tables: Tables which give daily predictions of the times and heights of the tide. These
predictions are usually supplemented by tidal differences and constants by means of which
additional predictions can be obtained for numerous other places.
Tides, types of: The characteristic form of the tide with special reference to the relation of the
DIURNAL and semidiurnal waves. Tides are sometimes classified as DIURNAL,
SEMIDIURNAL and MIXED, but there are no sharply defined limits separating the groups. The
tide is said to be DIURNAL when the diurnal wave predominated and only a single high and
single LOW WATER occur each day during the greater part of the month. The tide is
SEMIDIURNAL when the semidiurnal wave predominates and two high and two low waters
occur each tidal day with a relatively small inequality in the high and LOW WATER heights. In
the MIXED type of tide the DIURNAL and semidiurnal waves are both important factors and the
tide is characterized by large inequality in the high or LOW WATER heights or in both. There
will usually be two high and two low waters each day, but occasionally the tide will become
DIURNAL. See Figure 11.
Tide, wind: See WIND TIDE.
Toe: (1) Lowest part of sea- and portside breakwater slope, generally forming the transition to
the seabed. (2) The point of break in slope between a dune and a beach face.
Tombolo: (1) Coastal formation of beach material developed by refraction, DIFFRACTION and
LONGSHORE DRIFT to form a 'neck' connecting a COAST to an offshore island or
BREAKWATER (see also salient). (2) (SMP) A causeway-like ACCRETION SPIT that
connects an offshore rock or island to the main shore, or to another island. See Figure 5.
Tongue: A long narrow strip of land, projecting into a body of water.
Topographic map: A map on which elevations are shown by means of CONTOUR LINES.
Topography: The form of the features of the actual surface of the Earth in a particular region
considered collectively.
Training wall: A wall or JETTY to direct current flow.
Transgression, marine: The invasion of a large area of land by the sea in a relatively short
space of time (geologically speaking). Although the observable result of a marine transgression
may suggest an almost instantaneous process, it is probable that the time taken is in reality to
be measured in millions of years. The plane of marine transgression is a plane of
UNCONFORMITY. The reverse of a transgression is a REGRESSION.
Transitional water (zone): In regard to PROGRESSIVE GRAVITY WAVES, water whose
DEPTH is less than one-half, but more than 1/25, the wave length, also called a SHALLOW
Transverse bar: A BAR which extends approximately right angles to SHORELINES.
Travel time: The time necessary for waves to travel a given distance from the GENERATING
Trench: A long narrow submarine DEPRESSION with relatively steep sides.
Trough: A long and broad submarine DEPRESSION with gently sloping sides.
Trough, wave: See WAVE TROUGH.
Truncated landform: A landform cut off, especially by EROSION, and forming a steep side or
Tsunami: A large, high-velocity wave generated by displacement of the sea floor (such as
sudden faulting, landsliding, or volcanic activity); also called seismic sea wave. Commonly
misnamed TIDAL WAVE. See Figure 10.
Turbidity: (1) A condition of a liquid due to fine visible material in suspension, which may not
be of sufficient size to be seen as individual particles by the naked eye but which prevents the
passage of light through the liquid. (2) A measure of fine suspended matter in liquids.
Turbidity current: A flowing mass of sediment-laden water that is heavier than clear water and
therefore flows downslope along the bottom of the sea or a lake.
Turbulent flow: Any flow which is not LAMINAR, i.e., the stream lines of the fluid, instead of
remaining parallel, become confused and intermingled.
Type of tide: See TIDE, TYPE OF.
Unconformity: A surface that represents a break in the geologic record, with the rock unit
immediately above it being considerably younger than the rock beneath. There are three major
aspects to consider: (1) Time. An unconformity develops during a period of time in which no
sediment is deposited. This concept equates deposition and time, and an unconformity represents
unrecorded time. (2) Deposition. Any interruption of deposition, whether large or small in extent,
is an unconformity. This aspect of unconformity pre-supposes a standard scale of deposition
which is complete. Major breaks in sedimentation can usually be demonstrated easily, but minor
breaks may go unrecorded until highly detailed investigations are made. (3) Structure.
Structurally, unconformity may be regarded as planar structures separating older rocks below
from younger rocks above, representing the break as defined in (1) and (2) above. A plane of
unconformity may be a surface of weathering, EROSION or denudation, or a surface of non-
deposition, or possibly some combination of these factors. It may be parallel to the upper strata,
make an angle with the upper strata, or be irregular. Subsequent Earth movements may have
folded or faulted it.
Unconsolidated: In referring to sediment grains, loose, separate, or unattached to one another.
Undercutting: EROSION of material at the foot of a CLIFF or BANK, e.g., a sea cliff, or river
bank on the outside of a meander. Ultimately, the overhang collapses, and the process is
Undertow: (1) A current below water surface flowing seaward; the receding water below the
surface from waves breaking on a shelving beach. (2) Actually undertow is largely mythical. As
the BACKWASH of each wave flows down the BEACH, a current is formed which flows
seaward. However, it is a periodic phenomenon. The most common phenomena expressed as
undertow are actually RIP CURRENTS.
Underwater gradient: The slope of the sea bottom. See SLOPE.
Undisturbed water level: Same as STILL WATER LEVEL.
Updrift: The direction to which the predominant longshore movement of beach material
Upland: (SMP) Generally described as the dry land area above and landward of the
Uprush: The rush of water up the FORESHORE following the breaking of a wave, also called
Upwelling: The process by which water rises from a deeper to a shallower DEPTH, usually as a
result of offshore surface water flow. It is most prominent where persistent wind blows parallel
to a COASTLINE so that the resultant Ekman transport moves surface water away from the
COAST. See Figure5.
Valley: An elongated DEPRESSION, usually with an outlet, between BLUFFS or between
ranges of hills or mountains.
Variability of waves: (1) The variation of heights and periods between individual waves within
a wave train. (2) The variation in direction of propagation of waves leaving the GENERATING
AREA. (3) The variation in height along the crest, usually called "variation along the wave".
Velocity profile: The velocity gradient within the BOTTOM BOUNDARY LAYER, displayed
as a graph of height above the BED against the velocity of the flow. See Figure 14.
Viscosity: Resistance to flow.
Water depth: Distance between the seabed and the still water level.
Water level: The ELEVATION of a particular point or small patch on the surface of a body of
water above a specific point or surface, averaged over a period of time sufficiently long to
remove the effects of short period disturbances.
Water line: (1) The juncture of land and sea. This line migrates, changing with the tide or other
variation of the water level. Where waves are present on the BEACH, this line is also known as
the limit of BACKRUSH. (2) The common boundary between the water surface and any
immersed structure.
Water mark: A line or mark left on the shores of a body of water by the water as an indication
of the waters former ELEVATION.
water, navigable: The waters which are or can be used as water highways for commerce.
Water table: The upper surface of a zone of saturation, where the body of groundwater is not
confined by an overlying impermeable formation. Where an overlying confining formation
exists, the AQUIFER in question has no water table.
Water type: A water having well-defined temperature, salinity and nutrient characteristics.
Wave: (1) An oscillatory movement in a body of water manifested by an alternate rise and fall of
the surface. (2) A disturbance of the surface of a liquid body, as the ocean, in the form of a ridge,
swell or hump. (3) The term wave by itself usually refers to the term SURFACE GRAVITY
Wave age: The ratio of wave velocity to wind velocity.
Wave base: The plane or DEPTH to which waves may erode the bottom in shallow water.
Wave climate: Average condition of the WAVES at a place, over a period of years, as shown by
height, period, direction, etc.
Wave climate atlas: Series of maps showing the variability of wave conditions over a long
Wave crest: (1) The highest part of the wave. (2) That part of the wave above still water level.
Wave crest length: See CREST LENGTH.
Wave-cut platform: A horizontal BENCH of rock formed beneath the surf zone as a COAST
retreats because of wave EROSION.
Wave delta: See DELTA.
Wave direction: The direction from which the waves are coming.
Wave drift: The small net forward displacement of water in the direction of the wave travel,
particularly in waves of large AMPLITUDE, so that the orbits are not quite closed, and the
water, while in the crests, moves slightly further forward than it moves backward while in the
Wave generation: Growth of wave energy by wind.
Wave group: A series of waves in which the distance between crests, and the AMPLITUDE,
vary only slightly.
Wave height: The vertical distance between the crest (the high point of a wave) and the trough
(the low point). See Figure 12.
Wave hindcast: The calculation from historic synoptic weather charts of the wave
characteristics that probably occurred at some past time.
Wave hollow: See WAVE TROUGH.
Wave length: The distance, in meters, between equivalent points (CRESTS or TROUGHS) on
waves. See Figure 12.
Wave period: (1) The time required for two successive wave crests to pass a fixed point. (2) The
time, in seconds, required for a wave crest to traverse a distance equal to one wave length.
Wave propagation: The transmission of waves through water.
Wave recorder: A meter which records either the surface time history of GRAVITY WAVES,
or the subsurface pressure time history due to these waves.
Wave refraction: See REFRACTION.
Wave rose: Diagram showing the long-term distribution of wave height and direction.
Wave set-up: ELEVATION of the still-water level due to breaking waves.
Wave staff: An instrument consisting of a graduated vertical pole for measuring wave heights,
and, by introducing a timing device, wave periods. The staff may support a strip or series of
electrical contacts for activating a recorder.
Wave steepness: The ratio of wave height to its length. Not the same thing as the slope between
a wave crest and its adjacent trough. See Figure 12.
Wave train: A series of waves from the same direction.
Wave transformation: Change in wave energy due to the action of physical processes.
Wave trough: The lowest part of the wave form between crests. Also that part of a wave below
Wave variability: (1) The variation of heights and periods between individual waves within a
wave train. Wave trains are not composed of waves of equal heights and periods, but rather of
heights and periods which vary in a statistical manner. (2) The variability in direction of wave
travel when leaving the GENERATING AREA. (3) The variation in height along the crest.
Wave velocity: Speed at which the individual wave form advances, defined as the wave length
divided by the wave period (in meters per second). See CELERITY. See Figure 14.
Wave wash: The erosive action on shores or embankments caused by the lapping or breaking of
Weather shore: The land lying in the direction from which the wind is coming. The
Weir: A low DAM or wall across a stream to raise the upstream water level. Termed fixed crest
weir when uncontrolled.
Well: A hole, generally cylindrical and usually walled or lined with pipe, that is dug or drilled
into the ground to penetrate an AQUIFER below the zone of saturation.
Well mixed estuary: In this circulation type, tidal fluctuations dominate, and the water column is
mixed vertically.
Wetlands: Lands whose saturation with water is the dominant factor determining the nature of
soil development and the types of plant and animal communities that live in the soil and on its
surface (e.g. Mangrove forests).
Whitecap: The white froth on crests of waves in a wind (caused by the wind blowing the crest
forward and over).
Wind current: A current created by the action of the wind. From theoretical considerations,
currents produced by winds in the open sea will set to the right of the direction towards which
the wind is blowing if in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left of this direction if in the
Southern Hemisphere.
Wind ripple: Small, low ridge of sand produced by the saltation of windblown sand.
Wind rose: Diagram showing the long-term distribution of wind speed and direction.
Wind sea: wave conditions directly attributable to recent winds, as opposed to swell.
Wind setup: (1) The vertical rise in the stillwater level on the LEEWARD side of a body of
water caused by wind stresses on the surface of the water. (2) The difference in stillwater levels
on the windward and the LEEWARD sides of a body of water caused by wind stresses on the
surface of the water. (3) synonymous with WIND TIDE and STORM SURGE. STORM SURGE
is usually reserved for use on the OCEAN and large bodies of water. Wind setup is usually
reserved for use on reservoirs and smaller bodies of water.
Wind stress: The way in which wind transfers energy to the sea surface.
Wind tide: The deviation from a still-water level surface ELEVATION caused by the transport
of surface water by winds.
Windward: The direction from which the wind is blowing.
Wind waves: (1) waves formed and growing in height under the influence of wind. (2) Loosely,
any wave generated by wind. See Figure 10.
Witness mark: A material mark placed at a known distance and direction from a property corner,
an instrument station or a survey station, as an aid in its recovery and identification.
Witness post: See WITNESS MARK.
Appendix A

Figure 1: (a) The coastal zone and (b) the surf or breaker zone (Modified after USACE, 1972).

Figure 2: Seasonal cycle of a beach caused by differing wave conditions (Modified from Komar,

Figure 3: (a) Dissipative mild sloping beach with spilling breakers, (b) intermediate beach with
plunging and secondary breakers, and (c) steep sloping reflective beaches (From Komar, 1998).
Figure 4:
The depth of closure of an upper shoreface cross-shore profile. The shaded area indicates the
total envelope of change for a time-series of profiles (Modified after Wright, 1995).

Figure 5: Features associated with accreting coasts (From Komar, 1998).

Figure 6: Longshore drift of sand on the beach face and by a longshore current within the surf
zone (Modified after Plummer, et al., 1985).

Figure 7: The elements of a rip current embayment (From USACE, 1972).

Figure 8: Schematic of the principal components involved in the development of a littoral cell
sediment budget (From Komar, 1996).

Figure 9: Sediment deposits usually become thinner away from the source area, and sediment
grains become finer and more rounded (From Plummer, et al., 1985).

Figure 10: Types of surface waves, showing the relationships between wave length, wave
frequency, the nature of the displacing forces and the relative amounts of energy in each type of
wave (From Brown, et al., 1989).

Figure 11: Types of tides: (a) Semi-diurnal, (b) Diurnal and (c) Mixed (From Wiegel, 1953).

Figure 12: A vertical profile, showing the linear dimensions, of two successive idealized ocean
waves (From Brown, et al., 1989).

Figure 13: Wave refraction on an irregular coast. Shallow water slows waves off headlands
while the same waves move faster through deep bays. Arrows show energy concentrated on
headlands, spread out in bays (From Plummer, et al., 1985).

Figure 14: The velocity profile for a steady current flow over a bed. The arrows indicate the
direction of flow and the length of each arrow is proportional to the current velocity at the height
above the bed (From Brown, et al., 1989).

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